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Fear of heights               June 2005


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Fear of heights

Sandra Lawrence tells how she went for a cure

The Eiffel Tower. Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Mayan Pyramids. The Inside of Our Loft. Just four of the places that I have never seen. 


Fear of heights can create a serious obstacle to travel. I have never been skiing. Forget the mountain – I’m scared of the chairlift. The Grand Canyon is somewhat less spectacular when you can’t go anywhere near the edge, and Disneyland’s “It’s A Small World” ride is, well, frankly dull.

Of course heights is not a bad phobia as they go. heights are dangerous. They can kill. I know – I nearly died myself in an accident fifteen years ago. I have therefore convinced myself that I don’t actually need to see the view from the Duomo in Florence first-hand. I send my partner up there with a digital camera while I wait in a nice safe caf? And somebody needs to sit at the bottom of the Eiffel with everyone’s bags...

But I can’t help feeling I’m missing out. Things reach a head visiting Alfred’s Tower in Wiltshire, from which one can apparently view three counties.

“I will do it this time,” I say to myself. “I will feel that fear – and do it anyway, like the self-help book says…”

Twenty steps up the narrow, uneven spiral staircase, with no handrail and no idea how high I actually am (about ten feet, I discover later) I am spread-eagled against the wall, feeling my way down step by step, my legs shaking and with a lump the size of Portugal in my chest.

Suddenly, the need to do something about my fear becomes urgent.

New Age nonsense?

I have always been cynical about hypnotherapy. How could someone intelligent allow someone else to take over their mind? It’s all New Age nonsense. But in the absence of anything else, I check out hypnosis sites on the internet, studiously avoiding any beginning “Dear Friend…

I try tapes, but feel daft sitting wearing headphones listening to a cheesy American voice telling me to relaaaax

I make an appointment with someone who turns out to be a beardy man in a cardigan who plays wafty New Age music and produces some inexplicable diagrams.

So it is with advancing cynicism that I knock at the door of Claire Cox, of Woodberry Stress Management. I am now unconvinced that my vertigo can be cured, and I’m not sure I even want it to be.

Encouragingly, Cox doesn’t immediately try to put me into a trance – and even asks if I like New Age music. I expect to snigger at the sight of a couch, but when she asks if I would like a blanket, despite the warm summer day, I realise I would.

“There is no set format to how I work,” she says. “I never know what I’m going to get when someone walks through the door. I take what I am presented with and we work it out as we go along.”

Going for the “therapy cocktail”

Cox tells me that she draws on many disciplines to create a kind of ‘therapy cocktail’ unique to me.

“We will use hypnotherapy,”
she says, “but I would also like to try some metaphor work. We need to teach your body a new response system; to override blind panic”.

We discuss what I want to get from the sessions. To me it’s obvious – to cure my fear.
But Cox is keen to whittle this down to something specific. I realise that I have no intentions of going free-running or bungee jumping – but I would like to face safe heights “like normal people”. I decide I would prefer “not to avoid heights”.

We devise a programme of goals
– starting small – St Paul’s Whispering Gallery. If I manage that, I’ll tackle The Monument, which even people with a head for heights sometimes find daunting. Finally, my b?e-noir - Alfred’s Tower. Cox asks me how I will feel if I achieve those goals.

“Proud,” I say dreamily.

NEXT MONTH : Sandra goes for the goals



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