A case study – The effects of bullying on anxiety

Hypnotherapy for Anxiety – Agroaphobic eating

“Imagine finding it impossible to eat in public, without fear of being sick”

The following case study follows a man that found it difficult to eat in public. Something which is in fact very common, but too many of us is a strange experience. It looks at the treatment stages in depth which are used to help alleviate the anxiety experienced, by using hypnotherapy. I will show you how I helped him overcome his fear that he had experienced for several years.


A gentleman named Simon came to see me, as he had been experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. Simon had great difficulty eating in front of anybody other than his family. His social life was severely affected, as he was unable to go out with his mates anymore, even to the pub for a drink. Simon also explained that his anxiety increased dramatically if any women were in the group.

He had begun to notice anxiety issues around women from being only 11 years old, and his anxiety had left him unable to maintain a relationship with a woman in the past 5 years. Simon was concerned as he was required to present a course soon as part of his job, and he felt that he desperately needed help.


Simon was 23 year old computer technician, and appeared very friendly, although a little withdrawn. He felt very safe in his work as he didn’t need to interact with many people, and therefore felt safe working alone. Simon was now faced with new responsibilities, and this filled him with dread.

Simon explained that the anxiety would get so bad that he would retch or even be physically sick. This had caused embarrassment in the past, only adding to his anxious feelings.

Simon’s Expectation of Hypnotherapy

Simon was hoping to achieve mental strength, and put a stop to his irrational thinking. He also wanted the ability to enjoy being around other people in often unfamiliar places.

My Aims as the Therapist

My aim was to initially find and remove the underlying fears that were causing the anxiety, before helping Simon move forward to help him realise things were changing. This would allow me to build on this and make Simon feel more comfortable in any situation.

The Technique

I used rapid and progressive relaxation inductions, and during the therapy I used:

• hypno-analysis,
• gestalt,
• suggestion,
• metaphor,
• timeline
• and NLP.


Session 1

We began with a discussion about his family and background. Simon appeared to come from a stable home with two sisters, both older than him. His relationship with his family didn’t seem to present any problems.

We then discussed his feelings of anxiety and established that new situations made him feel worse. Simon felt he couldn’t socialise, especially in situations where he would eat, as he was afraid of being sick in front of friends or colleagues.

Simon alerted me to his feelings of panic, and described it as a wave of anxiety rushing up to his throat from his stomach. At this point I used an NLP technique, by anchoring the feeling of a wave travelling in the opposite direction, using his thumb and finger pushed together. I explained that anytime in the future he felt anxious or panicked, he could destroy the wave of anxiety using this method. Results in the future proved this to be very effective for Simon.

Towards the end of the session I induced hypnosis using a modified Elman technique. I then used a metaphor to help Simon feel good in public, and how it was possible for him to feel calm and relaxed at any time he needed to be. I finished by reinforcing the method of destroying the wave feeling of anxiety, using Simon’s thumb and finger.

Session 2

At the beginning of this session Simon explained how he had been feeling since the last session and reported that the finger method had worked very well so far, and he had used it to curb several panic attacks that week. Simon explained that he was already beginning to feel a greater measure of control. We established that Simon had an overwhelming fear of criticism and loss of control.

From this, I regressed Simon back to his first feelings of panic and loss of control. He went straight back to a time aged 11, when he joined a new school. He had felt very overwhelmed and scared as it was very formal and he felt lost. During this time he had tried to make himself as small and insignificant as possible in the hope that nobody would notice him. Unfortunately this did not work and he was bullied for quite a time when he first started at this school. He always tried to make sure everything was perfect so as not to draw attention to himself.

After doing integration and allowing him to realise that this could well be the reason for his fear of criticism, I went on to do some direct suggestion work on his perfectionism.

Session 3

During this session Simon explained he felt that his control was still increasing, and he had not had a panic attack all week. In fact he reported that he had felt increasingly calm.

Simon asked me if we could concentrate on his anxiety over eating in front of people as he had a function coming up at work soon. I did some direct suggestion work based on his anxiety regarding eating, as well as future pacing him out with some friends, eating calmly and really enjoying himself.

Upon termination of the hypnosis Simon reported that he felt really excited when he had seen himself eating calmly in front of his friends. However there was a certain amount of doubt as to whether he would really feel that way. I asked him to try it and to give me feedback on how it went the following week, which he said he would.

Session 4

At the start of this session Simon explained that he had experienced limited success with regards to the eating. He had been able to eat in front of his mates i.e. male friends, but still felt extremely self-conscious in front of women.

In the hypnosis session I instigated a regression back to the first time he really felt self-conscious in front of women. Again it was when he was 11. His sisters and their friends were there taking the micky out of him because his voice was breaking. I had him review this event and did the integration work.

The second event was much more recent. It was a failed relationship that occurred when he was 18. It transpired that he had really trusted her but she had an affair and they had split up. It would appear that this event really seemed to knock his self-confidence with regard to women.

And so we proceeded with some gestalt work with this woman and he told her how he really felt about the affair, and the consequential breakdown of the relationship. There seemed to be some very intense feelings still in evidence. After doing the integration work I terminated the trance.

Session 5 (Final Session)

In this session Simon reported that he had thought long and hard about the relationship we had worked on last week, and had come to the conclusion that this was part of his reticence with regard to being around women. He explained that during the week he went for lunch at a pub with two of the girls from work, where he had a sandwich and a pint. Although he thought this was only a small step, he was really pleased as his anxiety levels, although somewhat high at the start, dropped to zero after about 10 minutes. He felt confident that he would be fine the next time.

I did some suggestion work for rebuilding trust in relationships and brought the session to a close. Simon felt that he had come a long way since the start so I suggested a break where he could try out these new patterns of behaviour.

Post Treatment

I received a call from Simon four weeks later to report on his successes. He informed me that he felt much better about himself since his sessions. He could now go out in a social environment in a calm and confident way. He had also started a relationship with a girl he had known for sometime but always kept at arm’s length. His fear of criticism had reduced and in fact he has now taken on the job of doing in-house IT training for the staff in his company which had filled him with dread before our sessions.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The sessions with Simon went very well, as he was very easy to work with. His ability to visualise was very good and he was keen to take ideas on board, as well as make a concerted effort to improve things for himself.

The changes I witnessed in Simon were very profound, and week by week I watched him improve significantly.

After we had finished working together, I saw Simon 3 months later in a local pub. He was with a group of friends and he seemed to be having a good time. He was interacting well with both the men and the women. Although I didn’t make my presence known to him he did notice me later in the evening – and sent a huge smile my way!

Paul Howard is an anxiety specialist and has been helping clients with anxiety for nearly ten years. As well as being a practising hypnotherapist, Paul has trained many hypnotherapists around the country to treat agoraphobia and social phobia effectively. He works at The Surrey Institute of Clinical Hypnotherapy in Wallington, Surrey, UK. He can be contacted via the website at http://www.sich.co.uk. He is also the Marketing director for The National Council for Hypnotherapy – The première governing body in the UK.

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