x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A case of mind over phobia

A lifelong phobia of needles leads one writer to put hypnotherapy to the test.

I recently heard that the royal rebel Prince Harry turned to the celebrity hypnotherapist Paul McKenna to kick his cigarette habit. McKenna (and other hypnotists) claim to be able to help you do almost anything you want, from quitting smoking to losing weight or improving your self-esteem. So, out of curiosity, I thought I'd put this technique to the test and address a lifelong phobia of blood and needles.

Hypnotherapy has been around since the late 19th century and is practised all over the world. A quick search online showed how many people are doing it here in the UAE. There were too many to even know where to begin, but I finally whittled the selection down to an Abu Dhabi-based hypnotherapist who, coincidentally, works just around the corner from my office. Unsure of what to expect, I went along cautiously and a little sceptical.

I was more than slightly nervous about the whole thing, but I do love to try new holistic therapies and if it is good enough for Prince Harry, it's good enough for me. Steve, my therapist (a member of the Professional Hypnotherapy Practitioner Association), sat me down on his couch and asked me what I wanted to "cure". I told him that I thought it was about time I grew up and stopped fainting every time I had a blood test and hiding behind the sofa at any sight of gore in films.

He hooked me up to a heart-rate monitor with some clips on my fingers to assess how relaxed I was while he talked me through his mind therapy for the next hour. I was fully prepared for the fact that one session was not going to magically cure my phobia. But after 30 mins of the output on the monitor looking more like I was running a slow jog than relaxing to a soothing mantra, I realised this was going to be no mean feat.

The second time around, I gave in and closed my eyes, trying my best to give this relaxation some real effort. Just as I started to drift and the therapist began to think he'd cracked it, there I was again, fidgeting and with my mind going into overdrive. I just couldn't relax, in spite of Steve's best efforts. I'm a great believer in the power of the subconscious but I'm also useless at relaxing, which I have found out several times when I've attempted to meditate in some of the most spiritual places in the world.

The mantra, the relaxing music - it all makes perfect sense. I can see how for some it would truly work. For those of us with a resilience to letting go, it's a little harder. The key? Persistence. This isn't going to work overnight. As McKenna says on his website, even if you fall asleep, "your unconscious mind is still listening".