Overcoming phobias through hypnotherapy with Lewis McDonnell

Overcoming phobias through hypnotherapy
Lewis McDonnell, founder of Phobia To Freedom. Photo: Supplied

Lewis McDonnell is the founder and therapist at Phobia To Freedom, where he offers Neuro Linguistic Programming and Clinical Hypnotherapy services to help people to overcome phobias. He performs these therapies over video chat for people around the UK (and the world), generally succeeding in helping people to beat their phobia in just one or two one hour sessions.

Lewis provides expert therapy and support for people to face these crippling fears, and as one of the UK’s leading hypnotherapists he has experienced a lot of success. His online video call service means that he can speak to clients who need help wherever they are from.

What inspired you to start Phobia To Freedom?

I was inspired to start Phobia To Freedom after overcoming my own personal struggles with a phobia of deep water in the past with a style of therapy that I am now trained in and use with my clients. Living with a phobia can really limit our experience of life; in some cases it can put a lot of strain on relationships and cause embarrassment and feelings of isolation.

It is now my mission to help as many people as I can to break free of their phobia so that they can life a stress free, normal life. Being trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming and Clinical Hypnotherapy I am equipped with the skills to help people effectively. I find this line of work hugely fulfilling and the clients who come to see me are people who have made a decision with determination to take command of their life and change it for the better. There is nothing more inspiring than that!

What was the beginning of Phobia To Freedom like and what steps did you take to grow the business into what it is today?

I started Phobia To Freedom in Glasgow, Scotland. I got the ball rolling by partnering with local dentists in the area and began working from my practice in the centre of the city. However the big breakthrough moment was when I helped someone in London to remove their spider phobia in only 1 hour via an online video call. 1 hour to remove a life-long phobia!

From here I realised that my work can be done remotely with equal success and began advertising online. Within days I had people phoning me from up and down the UK looking for support. I have now worked with people of all ages via video call, the youngest being only 5 years old! This technology is easy and anyone can use it. It allows us to keep the costs down meaning reduced session fees for our clients and saves them the transportation hassle allowing them to cure their phobia from the comfort and safety of their own home from the other side of the world!

How did you develop your treatment program to be so effective?

After working with so many people I began to realise everything that works and doesn’t work. Clients come to me complaining about how exposure therapy caused more damage than good, or how they have spent months paying for talking therapy which hasn’t improved their situation. My work is a bit like lifting the bonnet of a car, you don’t know what the problem is until you have a good look around.

Each individual is different and so too are their problems; some people are done within one session, others need a couple more. Typically most people are done by our second session together however the programme consists of 4 sessions of 1 to 1 support at 90 minutes each. I have also been consistently refining and improving my process with continual training. It has been very rewarding that my skill has grown with the business so I am able to get people the results they want in the most streamline and effective way possible.

The 4 session programme offers a safety net but most are pleasantly surprised when they walk away from the first or second session feeling free of the anxiety and panic attacks. I believe providing customer satisfaction is imperative to any business, big or small, and being able to beat the initial expectations of your customers is a sure way to deliver a high quality, talked about service.

How did you change your approach to Hypnotherapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming to make sure that it remained effective for those you work with remotely?

I do follow a framework and certain level of structure for each session however my approach is entirely unique to the individual and their issue. The work I do remotely over online video call is no different to what I would do face to face. However I do require that my client finds a quiet room in the house where they will be undisturbed during our session together. Perhaps a time when the kids are at school, the dogs have been taken out and their phone is on silent mode etc. Many clients have never used video call before but within 5 minutes of starting the session we can feel like we are in the same room as each other which makes for a fluid and natural conversation.

What are some of the biggest phobias that you have helped people overcome with Phobia To Freedom?

I feel that to each individual their phobia will seem like the biggest phobia I have dealt with. In my opinion I would gauge “biggest” by the most negative affect it is having on someone’s life. I once had a parent call me up about their little girl who developing a phobia of swallowing after choking on a cheese stick. She was no longer eating solid foods which for any parent would be a huge source of worry and distress. We worked on the traumatic memory she had of choking and by the end of the first session she was back to eating her strawberries and pasta again! This was a pretty big deal in my opinion and her mother was thrilled!

Other cases have been people suffering with agoraphobia, people who are unable to leave their homes. People can live for decades like this and I have worked with many of these cases which has resulted in them being able to return to living a normal life again.

Another case was someone who was unable to visit their relative who was in hospital with a terminal illness. She was afraid of driving and also being in public transport and called me in urgent distress. After booking her in straight away we resolved her fear within one session and she was able to visit her loved one the following weekend. You see it’s often much more than just a phobia, it’s a barrier in the way of purpose and ambition.

Have you had to overcome any phobias in your personal history?

Yes, I once had a phobia of deep water. The phobic response is a learned behaviour which means that it can be unlearned. My phobia was caused by an experience of feeling like I was drowning when I was a child.

It wasn’t an experience that was as extreme as it sounds. I got my head stuck under a foam raft in the swimming pool and must have been under the water for only a few seconds as I struggled to get to the surface but as a child this experience caused me to develop certain beliefs about myself and swimming. Movies like Jaws and Titanic also added to this issue.

This caused me to reject invitations to the swimming pool with friends and times when we would be at a river or on the beach would be awkwardly stressful and somewhat embarrassing as I would resist going in the water whilst my friends at the time would try and coax me. I didn’t like experiencing this fear but never knew to question or change it until my NLP and Hypnotherapy training. Which was incredibly empowering. Now I enjoy swimming in the ocean when I get the opportunity.

What is the most common question people ask you about overcoming their phobias? How does it work?

I work with the subconscious mind, this is the part of your mind that controls and regulates body temperature, your breathing, eye blinking and stores all of your memories and beliefs. If I was to ask you to think of your favourite memory in the past, a memory would pop up for you, this is your subconscious mind working.

Now because the phobic response is often caused by a traumatic or unpleasant experience in our past I typically use a method of regression to locate and neutralise the suppressed emotional charge within the memory. Many clients don’t consciously remember the specific events but with the correct guidance we can locate memories that go as far back as being in their mother’s womb or the very moments they were born.

And because I use advanced techniques it is not like traditional hypnotherapy where they have to lay on a chair while I count to 10 and they go deeper into trance. Instead this is a conversational approach which allows the client to introspect on their problem and resolve it from its core whilst being in full control.

How have you used video-call technology to maintain ongoing support with your clients?

We schedule a session to suit the client’s lifestyle and needs, whether that is morning, noon or early evening. 4 sessions are included in the program and they have the choice to use them when they want. Whether it’s twice a week, once a week or once every fortnight.

What advice would you give others who have a vision for a business but are having trouble making it a reality?

The advice I would give to others who have a vision for a business is to begin writing your ideas down on paper. This helps formulate and refine the abstract. From here you can begin asking yourself key questions like what skills do you need, who do you need to talk with, who are your target audience etc.

I would advise that one should be careful who they share their ideas with, especially when forming the initial ideas and concepts. Some people will help to strengthen and expand your bubble of genius whilst others may pop it with their own fears, doubts and limitations. Surround yourself with like minds. Find people who have walked a similar path before you and learn how they did it.

Also I would say that the hardest part of any journey is getting the ball rolling, this takes persistence and determination, many give up when it gets tough not realising that at this point in their journey they have more skills and knowledge than they did at the beginning with only inspired ideas.