By Andrea L. Allen
A client, whom we shall refer to as Gwen, requested a session to help her ease the stress and trauma that was caused by her extreme emetophobia: the fear of vomiting. She wanted to find a way to move forward in important areas of her life but felt that the fears caused by the emetophobia were holding her back.
The phobia was so extreme that she struggled to even say the word “vomiting,” and several times in her life she had even found herself outside in the street, trembling with fear, with labored breathing from a panic attack, yet with no memory of how she had gotten there, after fleeing when someone nearby had been coughing and choking on food, which she considered a precursor to the action of vomiting.
Gwen had been ruled by this phobia for as long as she could remember and it had affected her life in quite profound ways. She avoided eating foods that might make her unwell, thus restricting her diet fairly severely at times. She avoided jobs where there might be the slightest chance of having to deal with anyone being sick around her. She had also made the decision fairly early on not to have children as she could not abide the thought of having to cope with the morning sickness that might accompany pregnancy and thus, despite her great love of children, remained childless and single at the age of 29.
Gwen was very nervous at having to finally face up to her phobia–she reported a SUD level of 10–and she was worried that she would have to talk in great depth about the actual act of vomiting.
I reassured her by first tapping on her anxieties at starting treatment using the following phrases:
“Even though I’m scared to death of dealing with this thing…
Even though I think this EFT thing won’t work…
Even though I don’t want to talk about this stuff…”
I then asked her try to remember her very earliest memory of being aware of someone vomiting. It happened to be her mother, who suffered from particularly bad morning sickness whilst pregnant with Gwen’s younger sister.
This meant Gwen was probably about 3 years old when she was woken by the sound of her mother “moaning and wailing and saying she wanted to die” in the bathroom one night. When she went to investigate, Gwen saw that her father had been in the bathroom accompanying her mother and she remembered thinking that her mother kept saying, “Help me, help me,” but her father couldn’t do anything to help her. “And if he couldn’t help her, then no one could, and so she probably would die.”
Gwen was gently ushered back to bed where she spent the next hour listening to her mother’s distressing cries before falling asleep. This incident formed the root of her fear of vomiting.
In Gwen’s young child’s mind, the act of vomiting became a precursor to death itself.
Because hearing the words “sick” and “vomiting” was so difficult for her, I encouraged Gwen to identify a global descriptive phrase as we inched our way through the events of that night (combining the Tearless Trauma Technique and the Movie Technique). My hope was that we would cover all of her feelings regarding her fears surrounding the emetophobia, whilst disassociating her from her fear.
Hence we tapped on “This Mum When I was Little Movie,” working on specific incidents within her memory of that night, using the following phrases:
“Even though I have this ‘Mum when I was little Movie’, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.
Even though this Movie has been with me for so many years…
Even though I was so scared and I thought she was going to die…
Even though she was crying and wailing and it really scared me…
Even though I was frightened because not even Dad could do anything…
Even though I knew then that Mum was dying that night and there was nothing I could do…”
Having begun with a SUDS of 10, the level of Gwen’s emotional intensity dropped, over 40 minutes or so, down to 0 and Gwen was able to use the word ‘vomitting’ and ‘being sick’ which was a very significant shift for her; one which brought about much amazement and a little spontaneous celebration!
As we stepped through the elements that made up Gwen’s Movie, it became clear that a significant factor in the development of her phobia was the fear of the sounds, sights and smells that she associated with the act of vomiting; in particular coughing or choking whilst eating.
So we dealt with these issues next:
“Even though I hate it when people cough near me…
Even though I jump out of my skin when my younger sister chokes on her food…
Even though I get dead scared when anyone looks as though they might cough in my direction, I choose to feel calm and realise that they will be fine and recover in a moment…”
We then moved on to Gwen’s distress over the many years she has spent struggling with this issue — the time and opportunities she felt she had ‘wasted’ as a result of avoiding situations where vomiting might occur. More tapping then brought out many specific examples of when she had been in such a situation and had dealt with it by running away or having a panic attack of some sort.
To complete the session we tapped further on her beliefs that the treatment would not last and that she would revert back to her former fearful status. We used the phrases:
“Even though I’m not sure if this EFT thing will keep on working for me…
Even though I worry that the fear may come back…”
At the end of this lengthy 2 hour session, Gwen was able to talk through an entire ‘scene’ of someone going through a bout of vomiting near her without the extreme reaction she would normally have had. She no longer felt the fear, increase in emotional intensity or panicky feelings that normally accompanied such thoughts.
Gwen was immensely pleased at the changes that had occurred relating to her phobia and was ecstatic that her fear had decreased to nothing. She began excitedly planning the changes she would now be able to make in her life; things such as working with the emergency services, which would have been unthinkable before as being in an ambulance with a person who was liable to become ill would have been too difficult.
We ended the session with Gwen agreeing to tap on any feelings that might reappear.