The risks of medical phobias
Over the years, I've seen people for a wide number of different medical phobias - needles, surgery, medical personnel, hospitals and doctors surgeries, general anaesthetic, medical/dental procedures, dead bodies, scans and other screening, blood, Ilizarov apparatus (those metal cages that people have on their legs to fix a broken bone), and more besides.
Medical phobias are surprisingly common and can range in severity. I myself had a fear of needles and the dentist. Whilst these phobias caused me a lot of distress in the lead up to appointments as well as when I was at the doctor or dentist surgeries, I never found myself avoiding appointments (although I tried my hardest to get out of having injections at school but didn’t have much success). But for some, their fear stops them from having treatments that they require.
Some people with a medical phobia put off going to the doctors when they're ill in case they discover that they need to have a blood test, scans, or even surgery. Many people make the appointment to go to the doctor or dentist only to cancel it or not turn up at the last minute. Some make it to the appointment but end up with such anxiety or even have a panic attack that they are unable to go through with the procedure. These avoidance behaviours just compound the fear. Whilst they bring relief from the intense anxiety felt at that moment, it is setting up a pattern that ensures more avoidance, fear and anxiety in the future.
But it’s even worse than that! Medical phobias are a serious problem, and in some cases life threatening, because they stop those suffering with it from seeking medical attention when they are in need of it the most. They might hold off going to see someone until it gets really bad. Minor conditions that could have been easily treated are left to become much worse, for example, bones not setting properly, illness spreading to other parts of the body, increasing pain, infection, etc. Illnesses that might have cleared up in days with treatment last for much longer than necessary. Treatment can often be more invasive than what it would have been or in some cases the illness is not able to be treated effectively due to a late diagnosis. And for those that avoid going to see the dentist can get a build of bacteria which causes periodontal disease, which not only affects the health of your teeth and gums but also has various other health implications.
So as you can see medical phobias can have quite a detrimental effect on the sufferer’s health. Hypnosis can be a valuable technique in the management of medical related fears (Willemsen, 2003) and is how I overcame my needle and dental phobia. Exposure-based techniques, such as systematic desensitisation, are the treatment of choice (Spiegel, 2014) and I use them extensively with my phobic clients. You can read more about desensitisation and how it is used within hypnotherapy to help with anxiety and fear in this post - Reducing anxiety and fear with desensitisation and how I overcame my needle phobia in this post - How hypnosis allowed me to give blood.
Don’t let your phobia put your health or life at risk. All phobias can be successfully treated, according to the phobias page on the NHS website!
- Willemsen, R. (1984) Hypnosis techniques used to diminish anxiety and fear: review of the literature. Rev Belge Med Dent. 2003;58(2):99-104.
- Spiegel, S.B. (2014) Current issues in the treatment of specific phobia: recommendations for innovative applications of hypnosis. Am J Clin Hypn. Apr;56(4):389-404.