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Neuroplasticity + Butterflies

by Maria Polymneas



I have been working with a client for a while now, regarding a phobia related to vomiting.  Not just the act of vomiting, but the sounds of vomiting, the possibility of vomiting and even the likelihood of coming into contact with someone who is unwell and may vomit!  Her phobia has escalated in the last 6 months as her control over life has lessened.

We have tried the following:

  • desensitisation therapy
  • CBT focusing on distorted thinking
  • hypnosis to take her back to when it started – in hospital as a child.  Getting her to imagine being looked after by Mary Poppins while in hospital to bring on a sense of safety.

All of this has been focused on stopping the vomiting or the thoughts around vomiting and has NOT worked!

Then about 1 month ago, I had a thought that going with the stream is easier than fighting the stream. Or in this case… the vomit (dreadful metaphor I know…)

I suggested that instead of trying to stop herself from thinking or worrying about vomiting she needed to just go with it, BUT to imagine herself vomiting butterflies and letting them tickle as they came out.  She likes butterflies (I checked).

I instructed her to practice this throughout the day and eventually her brain would change her connections to vomiting (Pavlov and his dogs had something to do with this) from the disgust at vomiting to butterflies!

It worked and two weeks later she came in smiling! She was amazed – the brain is fantastic but the mind is even better.  As I’ve said previously, “If we can’t change our brain and tell it to believe in fantastic things, Vampire movies would never make any money!!”

We only needed to make a small change.  She was still bothered by the sound of vomiting, even when vomiting butterflies.  I suggested she change this sound to a music track she associated with butterflies, something light and ethereal.  And it just so happens that she had the perfect track that she used to study to – “Madam Butterfly”.

I have used the plasticity of the brain before for many things, including other phobias, but it’s the first time I have used it for this phobia.  You cam use it even with clients you don’t think are creative, as we do this naturally when developing phobias anyway, and it’s just another way to change our past, and recreate our future.



Chronic Pain + Fear Avoidance

by Maria Polymneas




A couple of years ago I saw a client who will stay with me as an example of “I was lucky to ask the right questions at assessment”.

He was referred by his GP for ongoing back pain with anxiety and depression.  He was tall (over 6ft+) and thin and in his mid 30’s. He had injured his back at work and had lodged a Work Cover claim 18 months ago.  Treatment was a combination of medications, rest and passive physiotherapy (hot packs and electrotherapy).  He sat down in my room very slowly and woodenly (you have all seen these patients – he was frightened that he would cause further damage to himself).

He was a chicken catcher and hated his job and really hated chickens – “they were nasty, dirty things” and his workplace “stunk!”  Now remember ….. he was tall … chickens don’t jump up onto benches to be caught, you have to bend down while running after them.  That’s okay if you love chickens, but if you hate them???

Anyway, he had been retrenched and was happy about this.  He had decided that anything was better then being  a chicken catcher.  But what?  He didn’t have many skills and now he was badly injured.

As the session progress, I quickly realised that he had little pathology (all clear on MRI etc.) and that he had developed a chronic pain condition.  His life had become limited – he did very little – and went nowhere. He said “I’m finished mate and I’m only 36!”

Then I asked that fateful question that explained it all. “What are you frightened of?”  His response was “Ending up in a wheel chair.”  And he looked despondent.

Now, we have all heard this response many times from people with back pain.

The rest of the discussion went like this:

Me:    “Why would you think that.”

Him:  “My mate is in a wheel chair…”

Me:  “Well, he is probably paralysed”.

Him:  “No, he is not…he has back pain…”

Me:  “What bloody ##$@@%  would suggest a wheel chair for back pain.”

Him:  “No-one.  He found it when he was driving around on hard rubbish day and has been using it ever since!!!”

OMG… (quietly relieved that no health professional had recommended it to him)

Then I progressed to educate him about chronic pain and that he would NEVER need a wheel chair for this condition.  He was excited and confused as to why no-one had told him this before.  I suggested he had not told anyone the wheel chair story.  He hadn’t.

I referred him to a physiotherapist and they started a very active program of exercise.

He was sick of being in pain and wanted to get better and get on with life. He was an excellent gym attender and was excited with his progress.  I only needed to see him a few times to help with some minor issues as they arose.

Then he bounced in one day and told me with delight “I got a job as a circus hand for $1000 per week and I get to travel all around Australia.  I cant wait.”

I asked him what was required – it was VERY heavy work, often lifting 50-100 kgs, but it wasn’t chicken catching and that’s the point!!

He found the job himself, he could do it physically as he was much stronger, he was no longer fear avoidant and he had become more psychologically resilient.

BUT if I hadn’t found out about his fear of ending up in a wheel chair, challenging his beliefs about this and his general desire to improve, it would have been a different story.

His parting comment was “I told my mate about you and suggested he come in and see you, but I don’t think he is ready to let go of the wheelchair and get better!”



Can you hypnotise chickens?

by Maria Polymneas







What is hypnosis?  Clients often ask me this question and the only experience they have had of this is watching a stage hypnotist get someone to cluck like a chicken.  Is this hypnosis?  Yes.  BUT it’s not hypnotherapy!

I equate it to you can cut a steak with your scalpel or you can use it for delicate brain surgery. It’s still a scalpel, but it has different uses with a different “user”.


Hypnosis is the process by which a person induces an altered state of attention or degree of awareness in another person. The process may result in a variety of phenomena, which occur spontaneously or in response to verbal suggestion. These phenomena include: alternations in consciousness and memory; increased susceptibility to suggestion; the production of responses and ideas unfamiliar to the person in the normal state of mind; or changes in behaviour, perceptions, or psychological processes.


People often hypnotise themselves without being aware they are doing this, like day-dreaming, and hypnotic-like states may occur in people regularly.


Hypnosis is not the same as sleep. It is not like an anaesthetic. You do not “pass out” and you are not unconscious when you are hypnotised. You do not lose control over your mind or your feelings. You do not weaker or surrender your will to any other person. In fact, your will-power may be strengthened with hypnosis.


In hypnosis, it is usual to feel relaxed, at ease, and you may well enjoy a special peace of mind. Many people comment on their feeling of comfort and security, or the sensation of lightness or floating. What is particularly pleasant about hypnosis is the fact that it is natural and safe when used by trained professionals, and almost everyone can learn to use it by themselves and be helped by it. It can be learned and used by adults, adolescents, and children alike.


Targeted hypnosis can assist with many conditions.  It can help change pain perception, assist with sleep, change hunger signals to assist in weight loss, modify cravings/habits to stop smoking and even to change your memories about events to extinguish phobias.


It is great as a basic relaxation.  I recently caught up with a client of 7 years ago and she told me that she was still using the hypnosis tracks I had made for her to relax to.


She started laughing and said “You’re not going to believe me when I tell you this.”  I waited…. You would be surprised at the things clients tell me!


“Well,” she said “As soon as I lie down on the bed and start your hypnosis CD, my dog runs to the bedroom, launches himself onto the bed and closes his eyes, falling asleep in seconds…. Sometimes he doesn’t even make it onto the bed before he is gone…. He loves your voice.”


So there you have it. I may not be able to hypnotise chickens, but dogs appear to be my speciality.


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