Article by Nicky Holford
Published in The Guardian, 21st November 1998
Scared of heights? Afraid of drop-offs? Nicky Holford on a trip to the hypnotist can turn you into an easier rider.
There is a chairlift in St Anton, Austria, that cannot fail to take your breath away. As it climbs towards the Schindler Spitze at more than 2,500 metres, your view is blocked by an intervening mountain. It reaches the peak and the chair swoops down into nothingness, giving even the most seasoned skier a gravitational pull in the pit of the stomach.
For most skiers, chairlifts, views of chasms and drop-offs are all part of the package. Anyone in their right mind can look over a 3,000m mountain and sniff the fear, but they will not have the physical sensations of light-headedness, sheer panic and anxiety that grips many skiers on their annual holiday.
"These people love skiing, they have a passion for it, but they have a fear of heights that can trigger physical symptoms," says Deborah Marshall-Warren, a hypnotherapist who treats several skiers before their holidays.
Pat Barnett took up skiing when she was 40, and found she was afraid of chairlifts and going too close to the edge of a mountain with a drop-off. "I wasn't aware of my fear of heights until I had children," she says. "I think that accentuated it because once you have kids you feel vulnerable, more worried about keeping yourself alive. I found getting on the chairlift was freaking me out. I went to see a hypnotherapist and, after that, it didn't bother me.
"What happens is when I go near the edge, it's not my mind that is telling me I can't do it, it's my subconscious. The idea behind the hypnotherapy is to build on that. I'm going to Les Diablerets in December and I shall go just before to weak it."
The subconscious cannot tell the difference between skiing in hypnosis and in reality. In a session, Marshall-Warren will create a skiing scenario where the client will cope with the usual difficulties, and give them a positive experience. "She tells you to imagine yourself skiing beautifully down the side of the mountain", says Barnett. "It helped. I went down some pretty hairy runs lats year in Jackson Hole that were quite hard, and I had this conversation going through my mind as I was doing it."
Marshall-Warren first has a conversation with a client who sits in a comfortable highback chair that rocks slightly, and then continues that conversation under hypnosis.
"They are not people who are going to get on a black run, they are nearly all intermediates but have a fear of hitting a bit of ice or feel overwhelmed by the sheer sense of space," says Marhsall-Warren.
Past experience has ensured that Marshall-Warren makes sure clients are mentally kitted out in ski gear before they go skiing under hypnosis. "Once I encourage a client to enjoy the scenery, and he set off down the slopes and was very positive. But when he came out of hypnosis he said he was freezing -- he'd gone out in the same clothes he was wearing in the practice!"
Deborah Marshall-Warren practises in [Knightsbridge (020-7838 0765)]. For a hypnotherapist near you, call the National Council for Hypnotherapy and Psychotheraoy on 01590 683770.
[Telephone number updated since publication]