Fear of Bonfire Night: How hypnotherapy helped me get over my pyrophobia

The Mirror - 30 October 2012

Rebecca’s pyrophobia – fear of fire – was so extreme that even seeing a lit match would make her break out in a cold sweat.

Settling in for a cosy night at home, Rebecca Torres strikes a match and lights a scented candle. It is a simple everyday act but one that would have been inconceivable for her to manage until last year. Rebecca’s pyrophobia – fear of fire – was so extreme that even seeing a lit match would make her break out in a cold sweat.

But since having hypnotherapy for phobias, she has overcome her terror and is even looking forward to her first fireworks party for more than 20 years. Rebecca, from Brighton, first developed her fear when she was five years old.

“My family and I used to live in Blackburn,” says the mental health worker, who is 28. “When I was very young, I used to watch the fireworks from my bedroom window. “Then one year, my parents took me and my younger brother Simon to a nearby village for a bonfire party. I remember feeling so excited when I saw the huge fire in the middle of the village green. I was totally mesmerised by the bright, colourful flames.” What started as a magical evening turned sour when hot ash landed on Rebecca’s skirt and set it on fire.

“It all happened so fast,” she says. “One minute I was happily watching the fire, the next people were tugging and pulling at my clothes, trying to put the flames out. "I think what affected me most was the way my parents reacted. My mother screamed hysterically and my father looked absolutely shocked.”

From that moment, Rebecca developed a morbid fear of fire. “I never went to another bonfire party. I couldn’t even bear to see a candle – let alone a firework. "Whenever I was near any kind of fire or flame, even a match being lit, my heart would start racing, I would sweat profusely and start panicking. My instant reaction was to try and get away as far as possible.”

Over the years, Rebecca has even cancelled trips and evenings out as a result of her fears. When she was on holiday in Thailand three years ago with her boyfriend Joe, 30, an electrical engineer who is now her husband, she avoided beach bars and restaurants that had fires lit on the beach. “I was on the idyllic island of Koh Samui but in the evenings I was too scared to sit on the beach. The idea of being near fire totally freaked me out.”

She was petrified of fireworks and missed out on bonfire nights, firework displays and most New Year’s Eve celebrations. “I couldn’t even bear to sit near an open fire in someone’s house or the pub,” she says. “This used to make social events tricky, especially in the winter months.”

She also had a bad experience one year when she and Joe were on holiday in Valencia, Spain. “Our holiday coincided with Las Fallas – a huge festival of fireworks and fire. I ended up spending most of the time in the hotel room. It ruined the holiday. I’m lucky Joe has been so understanding.” From seeing a child psychologist when she was younger to talking to doctors and having counselling, there’s not much Rebecca hasn’t tried to overcome her phobia but nothing helped. The turning point came two years ago when Rebecca decided to try hypnotherapy.

“A friend suggested I give it a go,” she says. Rebecca made an appointment with a therapist in Worthing, Sussex. “I was extremely sceptical to begin with. I work for the NHS and we don’t use anything unless it is based in evidence. I thought hypnotherapy was just some kind of placebo. “But my first session was nothing like I expected. I was worried about being put into some kind of trance, and being made to dance like a chicken or something, like you sometimes see on TV shows.

“This wasn’t like that at all. Instead, the therapist taught me progressive muscle relaxation, where you focus on relaxing different body parts, to help me get into a relaxed state. “I also had to become more aware of how I felt from 10 to one. Ten is your most stressed state and one is your most relaxed. "When I got to one, the therapist would make me imagine a lovely scene, for example, lying on a beach or floating in water. "Then when I was in this relaxed state she would also make me imagine a flame. This helped to reinforce feelings of calmness while being in the presence of fire. “Hypnosis works by reprogramming your subconscious, so that you no longer feel anxious in certain situations, which in my case was when I saw fire.”

Much to her amazement, Rebecca saw results after just one session. “My husband couldn’t believe it. Three days after first seeing my therapist, we were in a bar. There was a lit candle but I didn’t flinch,” she says. “At first I couldn’t understand why Joe was giving me such funny looks. Then I realised. The candle flame didn’t bother me.

“Before, even the glimpse of a lit candle would have made me come out in a clammy sweat. "There’s no way I would have stayed in the same room. But now I didn’t feel any of these reactions. Instead, I felt strangely calm. The hypnotherapy was working.”

Rebecca had 10 sessions in all. The initial hour and half consultation was £45. After that each one-hour session was £30. The costs for hypnotherapy vary depending on where you live. “Each time, I imagined seeing a bigger flame until it really just didn’t bother me any more,” she says. “Now I can’t believe I’m no longer phobic about fire. All my fears have gone. “It’s also made me realise how much I was missing out on life before when I think of all the places and situations I would avoid. Also, Joe no longer has to act as my lookout when we are out socially.

“All that tension has gone and now we can just relax and enjoy ourselves. What’s more, I just can’t wait to celebrate Bonfire Night properly this year. "We’re going to the bonfire parade in Lewes, near Brighton, and, for once, I won’t be running away.”

What the experts say.. Anxiety UK According to Anxiety UK, around 13% of people are affected by a specific phobia. “The reason someone may suffer from a specific phobia differs from person to person,” says charity chief Nicky Lidbetter. “It often stems from a time in the past when that person may have been feeling anxious and panicky. "They then subconsciously associate an object or situation with the anxiety. Often, the hardest part is acknowledging you have a problem.

"Talk to your GP who can refer you to a skilled counsellor, psychotherapist or hypnotherapist. “There are ways to overcome phobias if the impact on the person’s life is causing them to change their life dramatically to avoid the feared object or situation. “Many people find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), clinical hypnotherapy and relaxation helpful in managing their phobia.”

Phobia Hypnosis is an effective cure for any fear.  Living with a fear can be debillitating, but speak to one of our trained phobia hypnotherapists at our London Hypnotherapy Clinic to take charge of your life.  Hypnosis for phobias is a great way to treat your fears.  Phobia Hypnotherapy calters the way the mind sees the object of fear.  Phobia Hypnotherapy London at The Harley Street Hypnotherapy Clinic.  Based on Harley Street in London, the London Hypnotherapy clinic is helping clients to conquer their fears with Phobia Hypnosis.

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