As you can see, I’m talking about something completely different today. A little while ago I mentioned that I have been having some treatment for a phobia and that I would discuss it when it was completed. Well today’s the day. So, let me tell you more about it. My phobia is ‘ornophobia’ or a fear of birds. It not only covers the idea of them flapping around me or even being in my path when I walk through a town square but it also extends to eating them which I am told is unusual. So, can you cure a lifelong phobia?
I have had some hypnotherapy work in the past but to no avail and as I get older, the fear has started to get worse. In my 49th birthday post last year, I set eating chicken as one of my ‘before 50’ targets. So when Christopher Paul Jones got in touch with me my ears were wide open. We had a quick chat about it over the phone and he felt certain that he could help me. So I went to see him for the first time when I was in London in January.
About Christopher Paul Jones
Chris is known as The Breakthrough Expert and can be seen on YouTube curing a phobia of flying in seven minutes. He has also been featured on BBC documentaries. He works from an office in Harley Street in London and he first became interested in phobias when he was working as a cameraman. One of his early jobs was filming a series that was looking at phobias and how to treat them. He spent a lot of time talking to the experts that were being interviewed with his own phobia of flying at the back of his mind. He was gripped by the whole subject and started to take training courses in his spare time.
The people he was training with worked on his flying phobia as they went along and he ended up being strapped to a helicopter and flying through The Pyrenees.
Since then he has developed the ‘integrated change system’ after training in: hypnotherapy; NLP (neurolinguistic programming); EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprogramming); EFT (emotional freedom techniques); CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), rapid induction therapy, timeline therapy and contemporary psychotherapy. Because he uses more than one technique, he is able to adapt his sessions to the person he is treating by assessing their response and progress.
He explained to me that a phobia is fundamentally something that has happened to you in the past which has set a pattern. His mission is to find the source and change the pattern. Once he has uncovered the original trigger, he works on the layers of further experiences that have cemented the phobia. He also works to unravel the lifelong pattern you have established of affirming to yourself that your phobia is real and justified.
Phobias in general
When you look into them, phobias are really interesting. They tend to fall into two camps:
- animals (such as dogs, insects, snakes, rodents)
- the natural environment (such as heights, water, darkness, storms, germs)
- situational (such as flying, going to the dentist, public speaking, tunnels, small spaces, escalators)
- body-based phobias (such as blood, vomit, injections, choking, medical procedures, childbirth)
- sexual phobias (such as sexual acts or fear of nudity)
- other (such as certain foods, objects, costumed characters)
These are very disabling and tend to develop in adults. The most common are agoraphobia and social phobia.
About my phobia
For as long as I can remember I have been afraid of birds. Even if I am in an open space, my heart pounds, I go hot and my hands tingle. If I am in a more enclosed space such as an alleyway, I have a complete adrenalin reaction which is usually flight (ironic) rather than fight. It causes endless embarrassment to whoever is walking with me and great entertainment to passers by.
The idea of being in a completely enclosed space with a bird is unthinkable. Each Spring, nesting jackdaws come down our chimneys and luckily I have never been in the room. If I had been, I truly believe that my heart would have stopped. It is something I start to worry about from February onwards. However the most limiting part of my phobia has always been the fact that it extends to eating birds. I don’t eat chicken, turkey or anything else that was originally feathered.
It causes endless awkwardness when we go to people’s houses or to an event with a set menu. The response that I am always met with is “surely you want to eat birds – it’s a kind of revenge…” But no, I don’t. It limits my cooking repertoire at home. It means I tend to cook red meat which is bad for my family’s health and, as I mentioned in my 50th birthday goals, it means we have never been to Nando’s which in the boys’ minds puts them in the zone of deprivation.
I am absolutely fed up of my phobia and so I was in exactly the right frame of mind to see Chris and try to meet it head on.
What I expected to happen
When I arrived at his office for the first time in January, we began with me outlining the problem and an idea of what success would look like. I explained that I believed my phobia was connected to my mum who was also afraid of birds. As far as I knew it started when I was little and she took me to the top of a tower to a room where they had a display of stuffed birds. I presume she was actively trying not to pass her phobia on. When we got to the room, it was closed for cleaning so she lifted me up to the window in the door. As she did, someone wheeled a huge eagle with its wings outstretched towards me and I remember screaming endlessly and those screams echoing murderously around the top of the tower.
Accessing my inner consciousness
With that as a starting point, Chris did a few exercises with me to take me into my inner consciousness. At this point I was feeling a bit cynical. I can only describe them as spatial exercises which involved me focusing on specific objects and sounds as he talked. He then started addressing my inner consciousness, asking it to give him a sign for “yes” and a sign for “no.” To my astonishment I found my body swaying backwards and forwards for “yes” and from side to side for “no.” I was still fully aware but in a slight daze.
He then asked my mind to go back to a time when it felt no fear. Surprisingly I was suddenly back in my cot in my parents’ bedroom. It was a sunny morning, they were still asleep and I was flicking happily through a book full of baby pictures (which I now know was the 1968 Mothercare catalogue of baby clothes – we found it in a box after my mum died with a note saying I used to read it daily. Now what does that tell you)!
I know I moved into my own bedroom when I was two years old so he had taken me back to a point when I was very small. He then asked my mind to move ahead and find the point where I first felt scared of birds. We were both expecting it to be an actual encounter with a bird but it wasn’t.
As it happened, my mind took me to sitting at the table with my mum in the school holidays. She was telling me about a story book she had as a child that had a picture of cranes caught in a net and she told me how it used to terrify her. Suddenly I remembered imagining the picture and feeling terrified too. He asked me how it felt and I said that it was frightening but it was also good to feel so close to my mum. So (and this is where it gets a bit complicated) it seems my fear of birds was actually entwined in my early relationship with my mum.
The surprises that the treatment uncovers
This is not a sob story, I am just giving you this detail so that you can see how complex the source of a phobia can be. I have never had any doubt that my parents loved me very much, however I was a late baby, born when my siblings were 20, 18 and 13. My parents both worked very hard – my dad travelled a lot and my mum was a perfectionist. She was a primary school teacher and she would get home from school, make tea and then work until at least 3am. She worked every weekend and right through the school holidays. As you can imagine, her stress levels were always very high.
Whenever she achieved a promotion, I would move schools with her and so I didn’t have many friends to play with in the village where we lived. This meant that I was quite lonely and it explains the bookworm in me. She taught me to read long before I started school and books were my refuge and friend.
So, you see on that rare occasion when I was sitting at the table with her and she was talking to me about the book with the cranes, I was probably interrupting her work but I had managed to capture her attention. It became apparent that the beginnings of my bird phobia were based around forging an intimate connection with my mum. I would never have known this if I hadn’t effectively ‘travelled’ back to that point in my life and watched it happen with my own eyes.
The cementing experiences
And so the session continued with Chris helping my mind to uncover every stumbling block and fix it by revisiting it and seeing it from a different perspective. The most frightening of the incidents was one that I had completely forgotten. I was sitting next to my brother in the back of the car. My dad and grandma were in the front and we were going to visit my mum who was in hospital recovering from an operation.
My brother was one of the torturing types and I remembered him whispering my name. When I looked round, he opened a matchbox to reveal a pipistrelle bat. He had caught it and was taking it to show my mum. I hadn’t seen a bat up close before but, peering out of the matchbox it wasn’t pretty.
My dad was exasperated and not remotely interested in what my brother was doing to me. Anyway when we got to the hospital, my brother opened the matchbox to show my mum and, of course, the bat flew out into the ladies’ ward. You can imagine the hysterical reaction, the screaming and commotion that entailed. Yet another negative connection formed between me and winged creatures.
Dealing with current stumbling blocks
Eventually we came to the more recent events of having birds in our current house. Because this is a situation that may recur, Chris did some active treatment. It sounds crazy but it involved me imagining the bird wearing a top hat whilst Mr MC chased it around as the boys watched and laughed. As I was playing the scene in my mind, Chris played Benny Hill music which certainly took the fear out of the situation!
That session took about 2 hours and at the end of it we went into the square across the road to test my progress. I managed to walk through the pigeons without flinching. It was very odd. Later that evening I noticed that I didn’t even react when a pigeon flew up in front of me in the enclosed space of Paddington Station.
Was I cured?
I was clearly less disturbed by birds around me but the big test was the one that Chris had set me for the weekend. We had agreed that I would go out with Mr MC to an Indian restaurant and I would eat chicken. Why Indian? Because I am so often disappointed by the gristly lamb that is served – the chicken dishes look much more appetising. Did I do it? No – the block was still clearly there. In my mind I firmly still did not eat chicken.
The next stage
Chris charges on results so the price is the same whether he manages to cure you in seven minutes or seven sessions. We chatted by email and agreed that I needed to do more work so when I was in London last week, I went to see him again. This time he managed to access my inner consciousness quickly and he asked it if it ever remembered eating chicken.
Suddenly I was back at the dinner table of my childhood again, this time with a plate of chicken in front of me. Mealtimes were often a bit stressful. My mum wasn’t an enthusiastic cook and was often pretty grumpy by the time she sat down at the table. It was very odd but I could clearly see the moment when I decided that I no longer ate chicken.
Chris asked me to describe what was going on in my head. I told him that I was feeling fed up. I had been playing on my own all day (like a good girl) and now my mum still wasn’t in a good mood. It was an act of blatant rebellion. We then talked through the ongoing outcome of my decision and I discovered that in my small childish way, it had given me a sense of control. It was particularly strong because I had taken her phobia and, effectively ‘trumped’ her (please don’t tell me I need to see a psychiatrist – I’m sure we all have these Larkin moments in our past)!
We looked at the pattern that developed over the years and saw that it captured my mum’s attention as she tried different ways of getting me to eat chicken. It meant that she talked about me to the rest of the family and, as the often overlooked youngest, I had carved a unique position for myself.
Chris then asked me to think of sitting at my dinner table now and how it feels. Thankfully it is a happy place that is usually full of laughter and conversation. He asked my mind what the impact of eating chicken would be. My mind replied that it would be wonderful – we could even go to the hallowed Nando’s. As simply as that, my mind was changed.
Can you cure a lifelong phobia?
Last Saturday we set off in the driving rain to find a Nando’s. We had to go all the way down to Preston. I wore my Inès de La Fressange rainbow jumper for luck…
… the sign on The Guild Hall opposite the restaurant was very reassuring…
… the boys could hardly believe their luck…
…I think Mr MC was hoping to document nervous anxiety but I felt fine…
… and yes – I did eat chicken, here’s the proof!
Did I enjoy it? Not particularly but I suspect that despite popular belief, Nando’s is not the best chicken experience. It was pretty dry and unexciting but at least I did it.
Do I recommend the experience?
Yes I do wholeheartedly. I would say that you need to really want to combat your phobia and you have to be in the right frame of mind to work on yourself. As you have seen from my experience, you need to be open to uncovering memories and feelings that have been buried for a long time. Like me, you may even find that you actually have two phobias that are connected but need to be treated separately.
The whole experience has been really interesting and taught me a lot about myself. I had no idea that my relationship with my mum was so complicated in my younger years. She took early retirement from teaching when I was 15 and when I look back, I can see that it made a huge difference to us. She was no longer constantly busy, stressed and driven. We became much closer and that continued until she died. It has made me think a lot about how busy I always am and the impact it might have on my own family. I’m vowing to be more ‘present’ even when I have a lot on.
How much does it cost?
Chris will cure your phobia in however many sessions you need for a single price. He says he usually achieves it in one or two sessions. If he does not cure you, he will give you your money back. He has only had to do that twice. You can find more details on his website, or you can visit his YouTube channel which will provide you with a whole evening of entertainment!
I’d be intrigued to know about your phobias in the comments – and it would help me to feel a little less mad. On another note – if you have any recommendations of delicious chicken dishes, please do tell me what I should try next. I’m wondering whether I should go down the curry route – what do you think?