It was Hugh’s* wife who suggested he come to see me about hypnotherapy for misophonia – an extreme reaction to sounds. When he rang me he asked if it would be alright if she came with him. As long as people are happy to talk in front of someone else I don’t mind at all if they’re accompanied. If it helps them to relax then it can only be useful.
Partly it was to make sure that he relaxed, and partly it was for moral support. Hugh felt that he hadn’t been taken seriously by his GP and by other therapists. That had made him nervous about coming to see me, in case he got the same reception. I knew he wanted to talk about hypnotherapy for misophonia (literally “dislike of sound”) – but what sounds did he struggle with?
“I can’t bear to be in the same room as anyone when they’re eating” he told me. “You might think I’m blowing it up out of all proportion – when I plucked the courage up to tell the doctor at the end of an appointment he was quite dismissive. But I’ve tried acupuncture, I’ve tried having my ears syringed, I’ve even tried those Hopi ear candles, but nothing is helping, and it just keeps getting worse.”
“It’s got to the stage where I can’t eat with my family at home, and the idea of a meal out is unthinkable. It’s really affecting family life, and it’s making things difficult at work to. If someone on the desk next to me eats a bag of crisps or smacks their lips I tense up and I can’t work. I avoid visiting customers as well, in case they offer me a drink or worse still a biscuit.”
The first thing I did was to assure Hugh that I didn’t think he was blowing it up out of all proportion. For a start I could see how genuinely distressed he was just thinking about the sound of other people eating. Secondly, it’s a lot more common than he thought, especially when it comes to the sound of other people eating.
It’s not a dislike of all sound, or being unable to tolerate any noise over a certain level. It was about particular noises, and it didn’t matter what volume they were at. If Hugh could hear it, even only softly, then he had the same reaction to it, and the only thing that helped was not being able to see the source of the noise. I told Hugh that I’d need him to see an audiologist to confirm it, but all his symptoms pointed to misophonia.
As soon as he’d seen the audiologist Hugh came back and saw me. Happy at last that two professionals had recognized and respected his difficulties he felt ready to start his hypnotherapy for misophonia. The treatment was very much as it is for tinnitus. This meant teaching Hugh to re-tune his hearing and stop focusing on particular sounds, and teaching him new ways to respond to those sounds as well.
I found working with Hugh really rewarding. Partly it was being able to help him when he felt stuck; partly it was because of the effort he put into getting better; and partly hearing the smile in his voice when he told me that he had sat round the table with his family again at last and enjoyed a leisurely Sunday dinner.
* Hugh’s real identity has been protected, and he is happy to share his story.
If you found this case study about hypnotherapy for misophonia interesting then why not sign up for my monthly newsletter here with three stories every month on the quirky side of psychology and relationships