Kim* was very on edge when she came to see me. “My anxiety’s 9 out of 10 if you’re asking” she told me, “and I’m terrified you’ve got some needles in the room somewhere, ready to show me.” Kim was phobic about injections, and it had taken her a lot to come and see someone.
It was easy for me to be honest with Kim and tell her that I didn’t keep any needles to hand. I’m very careful not to keep anything in the room that people could be phobic about. And as I’ve seen people who’ve had phobias about dog-muck and mice there are other compelling reasons not to as well.
“I was really worried about that. I had a friend who was scared of spiders and her therapist made her hold a cuddly spider.” Again, not something I would ever do.
“I’ve never liked needles, ever since childhood. I remember my mum having to drag me to the dentist, because I was terrified of needles. I think that’s why I take such good care of my teeth. I couldn’t avoid going to the dentist so I made sure that I avoided ever needing an injection.”
“I remember fainting in Year 9 as well waiting for the booster injection, and then fainting the second time as well. I did get it in the end, because there was no avoiding it. What I have managed to avoid ever since is anything else that might need an injection. Holiday in the far east? Botox? Flu jab with work? No thanks.”
Kim had made avoidance work for her so far. There were plenty of other places to go on holiday. There were alternatives to (and no need for) Botox. The flu jab wasn’t compulsory. What was going to be important in helping her was understanding why avoiding things had run out of steam, and prompted her to see me.
“I’ve been with Adam for five years, and he’s never known me any different. He’s really supportive, and we’re getting married next year and starting a family. That’s what’s made me come to see you. Adam’s always wanted to go to Vietnam and I want him to have the honeymoon he deserves.”
“Plus, I can’t rely on avoiding injections if I’m pregnant. What if they have to do blood tests or I need treatment? And then I don’t want to pass this fear of needles onto my children when I have them. Lots of different reasons I suppose.”
Like many people Kim had managed to make a go of avoiding things. A lot of the time they only come to see me when they’ve avoided more and more things, and realise their lives have become more and more narrow and constrained.
Sometimes though they come to a turning point in their lives where they come up against the limits their phobia has put on their lives. That’s what had happened to Kim. She wanted to start a new chapter in her life, but that wasn’t going to be possible all the time she had her fear of needles.
Given how anxious Kim was when she came to see me the first thing we did was to teach her how to actively manage how relaxed she felt. At the end of the first session she scored her anxiety” a relieved 5 out of 10”.
Practicing that skill before her next session Kim was able to face the next stage in her treatment with confidence. Systematically we took her through a series of situations from her past involving a needle, taking the emotional pain out of each memory.
Then we moved to future situations, starting with ones that Kim found easier. That was to maintain her confidence, and also made the ‘difficult’ situations much easier when we tackled them. By the end of her third session Kim was happily looking forward to imagining needle based situations like travel injections and blood tests.
“It all suddenly feels real” she told me, “the honeymoon, the idea of children – it all seems achievable at last.” With tears of what she assured me were happiness Kim declared her anxiety now only 1 out of 10 – and her relaxation “a very satisfied 9 out of 10”.
*Kim and Adam are happy to share their stories, and their identities have been protected
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