Fifteen Minute Therapy: 12 techniques that will cure a dental phobia or fear of going to the dentist in fifteen minutes or less
By James Brackin
Summarised by Dr Quincy Cheuk, QC Dental.
Full book can be purchased at https://www.amazon.com/Dentist-Phobia-Fifteen-Therapy-techniques/dp/1490372431
This starts off with a story about Louise, who had a 30 year phobia of needles and only after 90 minutes, her phobia was gone.
The author write that the purpose of this book is to give you a tool/technique to help you bandage your emotional hurts. It is something that you can use that makes a positive difference in seconds or minutes, after you have had a bit of practice.
There are three things to ensure it works.
1. Only use it when you are ready to change
2. Follow the all the instructions
3. You take the credit for the changes
The author writes it works 100% “without exception”.
These are the questions to ask yourself to see if you are ready to change:
1. Do I accept feeling the therapy working a positive change in my feelings today? If this is a strong YES, then you can don’t need to continue with the following questions.
2. Do I accept having a positive experience today, with the knowledge I can go back to my old ways?
3. What knowledge is required to gain benefit from the therapy? The author says an answer will usually naturally come into your mind.
4. Now that I know this, is it ok to go ahead? If not, do question 3 again.
If you’re not ready to change, you can try to work on another issue that is less intense, do something else to change your mood or give it more time.
The technique is designed to decrease the intensity of the negative emotions associated with past experiences.
To get started, choose a past event that has a negative feeling or emotion, but it not a major event. Try to relive that memory as intensely as possible, by hearing, seeing, feeling, knowing and remembering.
Make the imagery black and white and dull.
Make the imagery a still frame instead of a movie.
Imagine you are now watching the scene on a TV the size of a postage stamp.
Turn the volume down so you cannot hear it.
Imagine your emotions being pulled away from you and into the TV.
You should have felt a reduction or even cleared the emotions.
To make it a permanent change, imagine the screen flashes on and off a couple of time then fades back into your memory.
How it works
This therapy changes the sensory code at an unconscious level.
A story of a boy with leukaemia used visualisation of his white blood cells fighting the cancer cells went into remission faster than expected.
A psychiatrist performed a study to try to prove mental state did not alter cancer survival rates. After 10 years, all the survivors were from the group which had psychotherapy and self-hypnosis. The patients who went through the mental therapy survived twice as long, on average.
The author then talks about the effectiveness of the placebo effect and describes a handful of studies that showed the positive effect with other diseases.
Fifteen Minutes for Life
This is a therapy to make you feel better and enhance the immune system.
Use a pen and paper.
1. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being extremely happy, score how happy you are at the moment.
2. Think of three unpleasant events in your life. Write a sentence why you were affected by them and how you felt.
3. Thinking about these events, how do you feel now on the happy score?
4. Sit up straight and look at the ceiling. Now write some positive outcomes from these 3 events.
5. Now think of 5 best events in your life and write at least 2 sentences for each one. Why they were good, how they affected you and make you feel.
6. Thinking about these positive events, score your current happiness.
Usually people decrease their score when they were thinking of negative events. The score increases when they think of positive events. When you think of the positive outcomes from unhappy events, you may realise there was something positive in it.
The only thing that has changed is what you chose to think about. The quality of your life depends on what you choose to think about and how you view them.
We have an internal dialogue to interpret the world. What we ask ourselves affects how we see life.
If we ask negative questions, like “Why do I have such bad luck?” will get negative answers. These determine the meaning of the event.
To get rid of these killer questions, follow these steps:
1. Write them down. Eg. Why am I so dumb?
2. Scramble the brain. Change your body language to change the feeling. You can hop on one leg while you say your question. Change the voice inside your head to something funny. Speak the question backwards. These things make your question sound silly.
3. Replace these questions with positive questions. Eg. How can I learn from this?
The structure of the therapy sessions
There are 2 parts to getting rid of the phobia. The first part has 4 sessions that maps out the reasons, triggers and feelings that you have with dentists. This is the foundation.
The second part is the intervention.
What is the trigger?
The first step is think about what caused the phobia.
The dentist phobia can be traced back to the first time that you had significant negative emotions in which the dentist was involved. The dentist then became the trigger for the emotion, which is becoming the “anchor”. It is like when you smell something that immediately teleports your mind to a certain event, time or place that was significant.
A phobia is an extreme anchor that is linked to a negative emotion.
Think of the first time that you can remember having a fear of dentists. With the following question, answer it with the first thing that comes up in your mind. Write the answer down.
According to your memory, how old were you when the very first fear of dentists happened?
Now write more details about it, eg. Feelings, emotions, etc. Stop if the memories are uncomfortable, but usually this first event does not have severe emotion or fear associated.
Now imagine you are watching this memory on a small, old black and white TV. Write down anything more of what you remember.
When finished, read what you have written. It may have already made you feel different.
Why it has been getting worse
The fear you have now is not the same as that first bad experience you wrote down in the previous chapter. They are much stronger now.
Gestalt is the reason why it is getting worse.
Gestalt is the accumulation of all the dental related feelings you have ever had. Just like a cemented brick wall is much stronger than the individual bricks. Every time you have a bad experience, an extra brick is placed on this wall.
Once the wall of dental fear is developed, you react out of proportion to the actual event, because you are reacting to the gestalt, ie the brick wall.
To break down this wall easily, you must remove the cement.
Write down 4 words to describe the feelings about dentists.
What is the deeper feeling that is behind these 4 words? Which of these words makes the other 3 happen?
The point is to find the core emotion. If we take this core emotion away, everything else should fall apart.
Now write down the answer to this question. “If the feeling of [core emotion] is gone when I am with a dentist, would I feel much better toward dentists?”
If the answer is “no”, repeat the whole process again until you find the core emotion that is “yes”.
Changing the Submodalities
This session is to measure the severity of the phobia by using a method called Subjective Units of Distress (SUDS).
It is from a scale of 0-10. 0 is relaxed and no reaction. 10 is panic and uncontrollable fear. If you can get your dentist phobia to a 3 or less, it will be gone.
The SUDS technique
1. Remember the first event and all its details. Do it so intensely that your emotions rise and when it feels like the height of it, push your left little finger against the left thumb for 15 seconds or until the fear is at its peak.
2. Score how you feel from 0-10 as described above.
3. Change your state by standing up if you are sitting down or vice versa. Shake your hands like they have water on them. Do it for 30 seconds on until you lose the feeling. This is setting up 2 neurological states; one for the phobia and the other for relaxed.
4. Disrupt the phobia by revisiting the phobia state. Do this by going back to the position you were in before and pushing your left little finger and left thumb together. The fear should now return somewhat. Think about the phobia feelings and change position and shake your hands like in step 3 for 30 seconds. You should feel the negative feelings going away now and just let them go.
5. Get the old fear again and picture it like in step 1. Shake your hands while remembering this and SUDS score yourself.
6. Look at the score now. If it is lower, you have made a big step in conquering the fear. As long as it has decreased, you are moving in the right direction.
Change some memories
Memories involve our five senses of touch, vision, sound, taste and smell.
One of these senses are usually dominant.
1. Pick a happy memory that is not about a person. Eg. A holiday or promotion.
2. Score from 1-10, the emotional intensity. 1 being no emotion and 10 being ecstatic. Ideally this memory is a 7-9. Change the memory if it isn’t.
3. Is the memory picture moving or still? If it is moving, make it a still frame. If it is a still frame, turn it upside down. Now, is the image black and white? If not, make it black and white. If it is, make it appear murky grey. Next is to make the image smaller and smaller until it is a postage stamp size and have it at arms length away.
4. Score the new memory now. It should have decreased.
5. Return the memory as it was at the beginning by making it colourful and large. Make it as full of emotion as before.
Practice this technique with other memories.
Remove the secondary gain
The secondary gain is that your mind thinks there is a benefit in having this fear, in keeping you safe. You have probably associated dentist with pain, which as part of a survival instinct, you want to avoid.
Intervention for the secondary gain
1. Write as much down as possible about all the negatives and issues that your phobia causes. Then pick one word to sum it up. Change your physical state by having a walk or doing something else.
2. Write down all the benefits of having the phobia. Again, pick one word to sum it up. Change state again.
3. Imagine that your old fear has suddenly gone, by the click of your fingers. Write down all the changes, the increased amount of control, things you can do differently, etc. Pick one word to sum it up.
4. Think of the opposite of the core emotion from chapter 6. Eg. “fear” is to “joy”. As yourself, “Is the [core emotion] I have with this phobia part of the secondary gain?” If yes, continue. If no, go back to step 2 and add 2 other benefits.
5. Now as yourself if it is OK to be safe from dentist, feel less of the core emotion, have less of the phobia downsides and more of the future changes? Continue if yes. If no, ask yourself what else you need to add to this for it to be OK?
The emotion switch
This is changing the structure of the emotion and the way you feel about the emotions associated with your fear of dentists.
To do this one, stand up and follow these steps.
1. Remember the last time you had experienced the dental phobia and SUDS score when the emotions become intense.
2. There is emotional energy and this has a flow. Use your right hand to trace the movement of the emotional energy flow. There are 2 movements that make a difference. They are direction (up, down, left, right, back, forwards) and frequency (short fast, long slow). Use your right hand and move it either up and down, left and right, or in and out. Choose the movement that feels right for the emotion. You can try them all and see which one works best. Now adjust the frequency. Phobias usually have a short and fast frequency. Once you have connected with the flow of the emotion, you are ready to start changing.
3. Change the frequency first by slowing down the movement and increase the distance of the hand movement. Keeping this frequency, change the direction. You will notice the emotion changes after you have changed this, because you have changed the structure. Continue this and remember the last time you experienced the phobia. SUDS score now.
4. The score should now be lower than before. This is a strategy you can use in the future. You can do it in your imagination and use small hand movements that people around you won’t notice.
You probably have music that reminds you of an event or significant time in your life. Music therapy will associate a piece of music to the dental phobia.
It works by playing some music that is totally opposite to the fear of dentists, while you think about the fear. The feelings become confused and removes the emotion with dentists.
1. Remember your first negative dental experience. SUDS score.
2. Play some silly music loudly eg. The chicken dance. Keep on remembering the dental experience and SUDS score.
3. If it has decreased, then it has improved!
Word replacement therapy
The words we use to describe our experience help define and determine the experience itself, how you remember it, intensity of the feelings and how you experience it now.
It is a very simple technique that you may feel sceptical about so try to treat this as a game.
Write the 4 words you obtained from the secondary gain chapter (7).
There are 2 rules with this game.
1. Whatever words you wrote down on the piece of paper must be taken out of your vocabulary. You must forget about it.
2. You can’t use these words again, because it doesn’t exist for you anymore!
To play this game,
1. On the piece of paper with the 4 words, cross out each word one by one so that you cannot recognise it anymore.
2. Replace each word with a new word.
3. Write the following sentence. “The words I use now to describe my feeling towards dentist are [the 4 new words].”
Disconnect the connection
Your unconscious mind needs to know you are safe when you see the dentist, so you can remove the phobia.
Ask yourself whether it is ok to continue to be totally safe and remove all the negative emotions with the dental phobia. Would it be ok to experience the reduction in emotion while feeling totally safe? If it is YES, continue. If not, go back to chapter 1 to refresh your memory.
This therapy requires imagination, a mobile phone and a quiet place.
1. Think about your phobia and score it from 1-10. With 1 being relaxed and not bothered, to 10 being terrified.
2. Place your mobile at least 1 metre away and above our eye line. Keep it turned off.
3. Imagine you are watching the phobia play on the screen and watch yourself in the movie. When it ends, play it backwards at double speed in colour.
4. Repeat at least 4 more times, each time letting the process get faster and faster.
5. When done, imagine the screen turning off. Relax and take a few breaths.
6. Imagine a situation in the future which would have caused you to feel the old fearful emotions.
7. Hold your phone and with the changes in your mind, scale how you feel as in step 1. Squeeze the phone in your palm.
8. If you repeat this, the phobia will decrease further to an insignificant level or even altogether.
9. You can squeeze your phone in the future to reinforce this.
This last intervention boosts your self-esteem. Your mind has filters to how you assess experiences. Someone with low self-esteem will tend to focus on negative things, self-blame and be more suspicious of others.
This therapy is very powerful at making long term change.
1. Score your self-esteem from 1-10. With 1 feeling inadequate, very low self-esteem and 10 being confident and positive.
2. Do these 12 actions
1. Remember an event that was pleasant or made you feel proud
2. Applaud yourself for 15 seconds
3. Pat yourself on the back 6 times
4. Say “I like (whatever comes to your mind)”
5. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile
6. Hum the first few lines of a favourite tune
7. Shake hands with yourself
8. Say “I’m good at (whatever comes into your mind)”
9. Look at yourself in the mirror and wave
10. Draw 3 smiley faces
11. Say “I enjoy (whatever comes into your mind)”
Score your self-esteem now.
For a consistent improvement, do this therapy at least once a week.