This is another report I have written for the course I am currently on. As with the last one it’s very blog-post like, so I hope it’ll make for an interesting read!
Fear is one of our primal emotions, alongside love, one of the first things that, as a new born, we are able to feel. Fear has a lot of negative connotations, but it is, in its most basic representation, something that allows for the triggering of the flight or fight instinct which can be intrinsic to our survival. But what happens when fear stops triggering that reaction and instead freezes us on the spot, trapping us in a pattern, situation, or cycle that we simply cannot move from? That is when fear becomes an obstacle to our daily lives, and it is also when we begin to fear the fear itself, therefore creating a loop in which we simply cannot face the original fear that has us frozen in place.
Fear is one of the most common underlying feelings that a client might demonstrate, and it more likely than not that they will be unaware that fear is the root of their problem, let alone a fear of what. Because the fear is often rooted in one or more events of childhood, it is likely that the specifics of it have all been buried away by the adult as a coping mechanism. Similarly the fear may also have been displaced.
There are many physical, mental, and emotional signs that can tell us, as counsellors that fear is an underlying problem for the client even if they do not realise it. Physical signs can range from sweaty palms to shaking, to clinging onto specific items and high levels of restlessness. Mentally and emotionally, clients who are afraid are more likely to talk themselves in circle as they are too afraid to give voice to what the actual problem is. They are also likely to report high levels of anxiety in their daily lives as well as suffer from panic attacks. Addictions are also a good sign that there may be fear masked by the client’s actions. And those are only a small selection of examples on how fear manifest itself: lack of sleep, untargeted anger, and a chaotic lifestyle with no capacity to adapt are also some of the red flags surrounding fear in a client.
Anxiety, as is mentioned above, is unfocussed fear that the client has detached from what created it in the first place and it has become spread over everything that is part of the client’s life. Phobia, on the contrary, is a focussed fear, wherein a particular object, situation, or creature, becomes the target of an intense, uncontrollable fear. It is likely that phobias are displaced and targeted fears the origin of which clients can neither face nor recognise.
As therapists what we offer client is not to diminish their face, but it is to develop love (and self-love) to balance out the fear and make it more manageable. We cannot rid people of their fear, but what we can do is help the wounds caused by the events that created the fear, heal, and become just a scar. Triggering events will always make the scar feel sensitive but, with self-love and the proper healing having happened, a person can know what it is that is causing the feelings and why it is doing so and therefore be able to tackle how they feel both on a mental and emotional level.
When handling people who are afraid it is important for the therapist to be aware that they might need to approach the person and their issues in ways that are tailored to that person as each individual will handle their fear differently. One thing that can be said in most cases is to remind the person that they are being brave, and showing courage in coming to therapy. Courage can only exist in the face of fear, and by coming to therapy people are willing to tackle the fear that is hindering their lives, therefore demonstrating courage. This alone can help some people feel emboldened and more in control when it comes to the difficult process of therapy.
Most important is not to frighten the person away, not to give them another thing to be afraid of. It is necessary to be reassuring with frightened clients, perhaps to employ a particularly soft tone of voice to help them feel at ease. Exercises such as creative expression and dreamwork could prove beneficial to such clients: the former as a way to express the fear in a safe environment and in whichever way is more suited to them and the latter potentially as a way to uncover hints towards what is causing the fear. Visualization can be used to help calm the person if the session has taken them to somewhere which has caused them distress, whereas working with the stones might be a way to find out whether the fear is linked to one individual, or a group of individuals in particular.
What is important above all, and if not done will render any attempt to help the person useless, is the building of trust. Without trust, the client will not be able to open to their fear in front of the therapist, who will most likely become feared in turn.
It is important to help the client also understand that the fear they feel is not simply their own, but that of the inner child who has been holding onto that fear potentially for years now. It is very important to comfort the inner child and to teach the client to do the same, and not to belittle whatever it is that their inner child is feeling. Ways to get the client in touch with the inner child could involve the use of photographs from childhood (or old diaries), non-dominant hand writing, or the good parent visualization. It could be helpful to ask the client what would have helped them when they were in that situation and do behave that way towards the inner child where possible.
The therapist could ask questions along the line of ‘Can you remember a time when you felt afraid/safe/anxious?’ as a way to start creating a timeline of when the fear was created. Although this might be difficult for customers who have little to no memories of their childhood. Client willing, there are ways to help them try and retrieve these memories, but it is never guaranteed and there is always the risk of the client going to very dark and uncomfortable, often frightening, places. Again the use of old photos can help jog specific memories, and if the client has any, they could use object or toys from their past to build memories outwards from what they remember regarding the object/toy. Talking to old friends and family can also help.
It is also possible that the fear will prevent the recovery of memories, or that they have simply been lost and as such the therapist will need to work more with the present life of the client instead of trying to heal the wounds of the past. It is also possible that the fear has been created in a more recent past and not in the childhood, and therefore will likely need to be tackled differently. Either way, it is important to help people realise that fear is False Evidence Affecting Reality and that the proper support and love, it can be overcome in most cases.