There are a lot of different ways to deal with phobias. Situations are different; phobias are different; everyone is unique. And yet, I want to share an example of how I work with people with phobias. This example was a crisis situation, and I felt under pressure to help this person, but it is a funny story.
I was sitting in an airplane in the middle seat, and someone sat next to me in the aisle. I said, “Hi,” and she said, “Hi.” The next thing she did was to touch the sick bag. So, I noticed that, but I didn’t say anything. Then she looked at me and said, “I’m really afraid of flying,” and I said, “Oh, okay.” Next, she said, “This is the third plane I have boarded at this airport. I got off the first two planes.”
This was a cross country flight, so this was a choice point for me. Then I said to her, “Well, that’s lucky for you. I’ve helped people with phobias before, so I think I can help you relax.”
She said, “Oh! Okay.”
The reason I’m telling this story is because this example is very similar to how I work with people. The first thing I did was to lead her through a relaxation exercise where she relaxed her body from head to toe. After this body scan, I asked, “Are you feeling relaxed?” She said, “Yeah.”
Then I future paced her. In other words, I had her imagine the steps that were going to happen during our flight. We are going to take off… we are going be in the air… it might be bumpy.
I said, “As you’re feeling relaxed now, can you continue to feel this way and imagine that you can continue to do that even as we’re taking off, even as the plan rumbles… and flying in the air” and I’m gauging her face, making sure she’s still relaxed, and she’s staying with me, and she was saying, “Yeah, yeah.”
Then I made a morbid joke to sense and see if she was still with me. “And even be relaxed if you should hear through the speakers overhead that there is going to be a water landing.” She laughed, and she still looked calm.
Then the plane started to move, to taxi in real life. I continued to talk a little bit to help her feel relaxed and comfortable. I started adding longer pauses so that she began to relax on her own without my assistance, which she was able to do as the plane took off. It was a relatively smooth ascent, so I talked a little less, and she seemed okay with that. Then she said she was going to do some reading, and she did. I didn’t really have to intervene the rest of the way.
At the end of the flight, we got off, and she thanked me and seemed grateful. So, it’s possible for people to change even when they think they’re in a crisis situation.