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Review the Different Hypnotherapeutic Treatments for Stress, Anxiety and Phobias, Along with Any Limitations of This Treatment.

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Module six essay stress and anxiety

Review the different hypnotherapeutic treatments for stress, anxiety and phobias, along with any limitations of this treatment.

The aim of this essay is to consider different treatments used in hypnotherapy for addressing the problems of stress, anxiety and phobias, including some explanations of the origins of stress and how it relates to anxiety. Also looking at the various treatments, consideration is given to some limitations within hypnotherapy and ways therapist can address these with the client.

The Oxford English dictionary defines stress as ‘a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.’ Stressors can come from an external source e.g. a working environment or challenging home life, or can be internal from illness, chronic pain or a person’s values and standards that are being challenged or confronted, along with a person feeling a lack of control over their situation. In this context stress can be categorised in different ways; such as:-

Hypostress - feeling underwhelmed, bored or lacking stimulation, such as repetitive work or undertaking duties far below someone’s abilities.

Eustress - a positive stress, helpful to complete tasks short term by increasing performance in physical activity or creativity and can also relate to the excitement and anticipation of pleasurable activities such as holiday or romantic encounters.

Acute stress - a commonly understood category that most people recognise as stress, involving tension over several weeks, combined with physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension and poor sleep.

Episodic acute stress - similar to above but more damaging due to the prolonged or repeated nature of the experience, contributing to more significant physical problems such as cardiac disease or gastrointestinal disorders; often requiring medical interventions along with longer term therapeutic input.

Chronic stress - even more damaging due to feeling never-ending, potentially causes serious medical diseases including cancer or diabetes.

Traumatic stress: - a particular stress often relating to a significant, catastrophic event which can develop into a post-traumatic stress disorder. This needs intervention from a range of professionals or highly specialised training.

As briefly mentioned there are multiple causes for stress, likewise we respond to stress in different ways. Some may develop their stress response as a learnt behaviour and have inherited or model their behaviours from people they have depended on such as parents, grandparents, older siblings etc. If a child observes their mother showing stress in certain situations such as meeting new people this can transfer to the child, who learns to repeat the behaviours resulting in experiencing stress through various life circumstances e.g. attending a new school, starting a job and so on. Different personality types can contribute to stress; Type A personality people often thrive on stress due to a tendency to push themselves towards over-achievement, being competitive and often cynical with a tendency to be quick to anger; potentially causing a significant risk of developing health and anxiety issues in the longer term. Another trigger for experiencing stress can be a person’s values or rules for living, such as a tendency to catastrophize situations, when people frequently focus on the worst-case scenario; they are often producing a chronic level of stress and fear of the future.  Likewise by placing unnecessary pressure on them such as using phrases like ‘I should…’ Holding unhelpful rules for life can create distorted perspectives, placing people in a negative spiral of self-talk often leading to a constant state of stress. Similarly those who refuse to allow themselves to experience or accept emotions such as sadness or hurt e.g. ‘a man shouldn’t cry’ frequently avoid or repress intolerable feelings, often manifesting in unhealthy behaviours such as overeating, drinking excessively or smoking. An accumulation of this type of avoidance produces a build-up of stress. Individuals have a perception of how much they are able to meet the demands of situations or tasks in life, when they perceive a lack in their ability to meet these demands stress quickly develops. This is common in today’s world of accumulating demands and stressful situations; which can be an isolated incident such as speaking in public or combined such as struggling to find a healthy work/life balance. Finally physical contributors to stress, as mentioned previously, such as chronic pain can contribute to feeling unable to meet life’s demands or enjoy certain activities. Alongside this are illnesses, dietary deficiencies, or even PMT in the case of some women whereby the body can produce a stress response naturally. Stress manifests in various ways, often with psychological changes leading to depression and anxiety or numerous physical reactions to stress including a raised pulse, increased sweating, breathing changes, nausea, muscular tension, blurred vision and even fainting. Physical changes in the body relates to the adrenaline response in the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, produced when a person senses fear. The nervous system triggers a response to fear which prepares the body to either flee a situation or respond with attack. Whilst helpful in life-threatening circumstances, much less so in day-to-day stressful situations as mentioned it is counter-productive and often creates hypervigilance to the source of stress contributing to increased anxiety or even develops into a phobic response where someone may go to great lengths to avoid a source of stress. Additionally, the concept of ‘freeze’ has also been added to this response, whereby a person is so overwhelmed by fear they are unable to function.

The fundamental emotion of fear significantly contributes to anxiety, the sense of threat or anticipation that something awful may happen is how anxiety functions. Anxiety can be described as ‘a fear that persists even when a salient threat is not present’ (Nash and Barnier, 2008, cited in Eason 2013). Sometimes people recognise the cause of fear but some are unable to identify it, like stress it can be a learnt behaviour or response to life situations. Anxiety serves to protect our survival by avoiding dangerous situations, however the subconscious mind can magnify or generalise risks in order to self-protect at any cost. For example, following a bad experience in a car a person may develop an avoidance of driving. How anxiety manifests is unique to each person with its own psychological and physical symptoms, the most acute form being panic attacks.  Individual causes of anxiety are often self-perpetuated by the sense of fear and efforts taken to deal with threat, usually with spiralling negative thoughts in a battle between the conscious and subconscious mind to avoid situations or objects which trigger that threat as mentioned above. Avoidance can easily develop into phobias; from deep-seated fears developed from negative experiences stored by the subconscious mind. A phobia is simply an irrational fear of something, some more obvious such as a dog bite in childhood leading to a complete aversion to all dogs, others trace back to deeper significant issues in the past such as severe or repetitive stress, a traumatic event or a series of experiences developing into a general avoidance of life e.g. when a person becomes afraid to leave their home. There is also the fear of fear and panic itself or a phobia being transmitted by another person’s fear. Both in significant anxiety and complex phobias it is necessary to consider and involve the use of multidisciplinary services such as counselling, psychotherapy and liaison with the client’s GP. It is always important to consider the background of medical history, mental health and understand any medication a client is taking, whilst involving the GP with any concerns a therapist has around their clients’ health and well-being; as well as seeking permission from the GP first for the client to be engaging in hypnotherapeutic work. Particularly important with significant mental health issues which may underpin the anxiety or produce symptoms the client is presenting with. Of course this must always be clarified and communicated with the client at the beginning of any hypnotherapeutic interventions, to maintain safe practice and gain agreement for GP liaison before commencing with any therapy.  



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