In the past few months at Morpheus, we’ve had a significant number of clients coming in to get help managing their fear of flying. Of all of the fears and phobias we work with, this one seems to be one of the most common. If you or someone you know struggles with a fear of flying, hypnosis could be the answer. I asked Luke Chao (the founder of the clinic) several questions that will hopefully help clear up why many of us have this fear and how hypnotherapy fits into the equation:
Q: What causes someone to develop a fear of flying in the first place?
A: Like most fears, the fear of flying is learned, but unlike many other fears, the fear of flying often develops in adulthood. In most cases I’ve encountered, a bad flight causes a person to associate fear with flying or to develop the belief that flying is dangerous. In other cases, an event like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 can leave the impression that flying can be catastrophic. To be fair, accidents and terrorist attacks do happen, but despite these events, flying is by far the safest mode of transportation for long-distance travel.
Q: Why is this such a common fear?
A: We’ve all seen airplane disaster movies where the absolute worst case scenario happens, and those seem to be the movies that people are playing inside their heads when they think of flying. Flying often evokes associated fears, like the fear of heights, the fear of being out of control, or the fear of being in a closed-off, inescapable space. If somebody has any of these fears, they can come out while flying or thinking about flying.
Q: Why is hypnotherapy a powerful tool in managing this fear?
A: Somebody who is afraid of flying often has a vivid imagination running amok – and if their imagination can scare them, their imagination can also calm them. On top of that, when the fear is caused by a single, known event, we don’t have to spend much time exploring the client’s past. We just have to reframe the client’s memory of that event. Reframing in this context means that we give them a perspective on the memory so that it isn’t as scary or distressing.
Q: What techniques are used to treat this fear?
A: Metaphorical imagery can help, like the image of the plane floating on a cushion of air, or acting like a boat floating on water. The reality of flying is that physics is on your side. The 40,000 feet of air underneath the plane isn’t nothing – it’s a substance that keeps the plane aloft. In the first session, I’ll usually ask the client to imagine a series of typical flights while giving suggestions like that to manage their anxiety. In subsequent sessions, we’ll usually begin reframing memories of bad flights. If the client has a limiting belief, like that they’re in danger when they’re not in control, we would use direct suggestion and belief change techniques to work with that belief. The structure of this problem is very different among individuals, so the process will be individualized too.
Q: Ultimately, what do you want to leave your clients feeling?
A: I want to give them the view that commercial airline travel is safe, predictable and (frankly) boring. With enough flying experience, they’ll come to realize that this is true.