This is the third book that I have had published as an author since I began writing again in 2013. Nevertheless, I had always intended to write this book. The systematic desensitisation programme that it the subject matter of this book made such a difference to my life when I was only 23 years of age, that I have felt it is imperative that I make some effort to publicise this brilliant method of helping those who suffer the extremely disabling effects of panic disorder or phobia.
When I was hardly an adult, I began to suffer the disabling effects of agoraphobia and associated panic attacks. For those of you who have been fortunate enough never to have suffered a panic attack, I would like to stress just how frightening it feels when one is literally taken over by the symptoms of panic disorder. I felt, just like so many others describe similarly, that I would die! It took me five years, in the decade of the seventies, before I could even find a label for the illness that overtook my life. I remember being delighted on the day I discovered a book in the local public library that was entitled Fears and Phobias (by Claire Weekes). At last I had a name for the daily onslaught of symptoms that had ruled my life for a number of years. Armed with that insight, I soon sought help from the local psychiatric department. I was referred to work with a psychologist whose name is Anne C., and to whom I dedicate this book some forty-four years later.
The systematic desensitisation programme to which she introduced me is described in detail in this book. Working through the programme required determination and persistence, as I gradually tackled graded tasks that I had studiously avoided for several years. Following the programme, overseen with the help of my psychologist, I gradually returned to be able to enjoy a capacity to live a normal life, able to participate in ordinary events like going shopping, enjoying a meal out in a restaurant, having my hair styled in a hairdressers’, attending a corporate event such as entertaining clients at The Grand National. When I finished the programme, I was once again able to seek employment, and I worked for some time before becoming a full-time mother to two little girls. These opportunities represented parts of an ordinary life that for some years I had not been able to anticipate ever having the courage to take part in again.
The years of full-time parenting passed, and I felt myself drawn to a career as a psychotherapist. I guess this is partially a consequence of the fantastic help I received when I was struck down by mental illness in my early twenties. I have thoroughly enjoyed a career, first as counsellor and latterly as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, for almost thirty years. And these years have been free of any of the disabling effects of phobia! Despite my training in psychoanalysis, I remain convinced that at times the most useful intervention that one can make as a therapist is to use skills using a CBT framework. Thus, I class myself as an integrative therapist, with a psychoanalytic bent.
However, in the book, I provide the reader with a number of case examples of clients with whom I have worked to help them to overcome panic disorder and/or phobias that are effectively ruling their lives. Two chapters are dedicated to detailed case studies of individuals with whom I have worked – one suffering from agoraphobia, the other from driving phobia. I take the reader through each stage of the programme in detail, so that one will be able to confidently practice this intervention in a counselling or psychology practice.
I am extremely proud of the work I have carried out with all the individuals with whom I have worked, whether this be in a psychoanalytic context or a CBT modality. It remains true that I have been successful in changing the course of many individuals’ lives, not least the clients who have suffered disabling phobias.Whilst this book focusses upon how as a health professional one can work effectively with a client suffering from phobia or panic disorder, using the systematic desensitisation programme, I also believe that some individual sufferers may well be capable of adapting this programme to secure their own release from the torture that they are suffering, without the help of a counsellor, psychotherapist or psychologist.
I am certain that this book will provide you with a way of tackling your therapeutic work with clients suffering from panic and phobia. You will be able to open the doors to a return to normal life for these individuals, just as occurred for me with the help of Anne C. almost half a century ago. Systematic desensitisation may not be a new intervention, but it has certainly not been given the publicity that it rightly deserves. I hope that this book helps to remedy this.
Rhona M. Fear BA (Hons), MA, is a UKCP registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist. She has been in private practice in Worcestershire since 1994, and specialises in working with clients in long term therapy. She first qualified as a counsellor in 1990, and then broadened her knowledge by undertaking a master’s degree at Keele University. She then trained as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist.
Her latest book, Systematic Desensitisation for Panic and Phobia: An Introduction for Health Professionals, has recently been published by Karnac