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How I Cured My Needle Phobia With CBT

Citizen Femme’s fashion editor, Gemma Louise Deeks, struggled with a phobia of needles for years. This is how CBT helped her overcome it.

According to the NHS, 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from a phobia of needles. I was one of them.

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that is more than a simple fear – but when does a fear become a phobia? Phobias are when you begin to organise your life around avoiding the thing that frightens you, and that means you have an overwhelming need to avoid all contact with the source of your anxiety.

For me, that phobia was needles, something I had suffered with since I was a child. I took the phobia into my adult life with more anxiety and worry occurring as the years went on. Here’s my story on how I got it under control.

Trigger warning: this article talks about needles.

It was winter 2020. The pandemic was in full swing, and the Covid vaccine rollout had begun. For many, there was finally light at the end of the tunnel but, for me, the thought filled me with a dark dread that I couldn’t see myself getting through.

My story started when I was a child – I had a routine blood test at my local doctor’s surgery, and proceeded to faint quite soon afterwards. The whole ordeal was quite traumatic at the time and since that moment, I’d been unable to have an injection or blood test without having a panic attack and passing out.

As someone who wanted to get the Covid vaccine at the time, and also hoped to start a family in the future, I knew needles would be an inevitable part of my life. It was then I decided I needed to get my phobia of needles under control, so I searched for options that could potentially help me. My GP referred me for CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, but I was skeptical – how could talking through my phobia cure me once and for all?

What is CBT? 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a type of talking therapy that can help alter the way you think about something. Commonly used to treat anxiety and depression, your therapist will help you break down your specific thoughts, the physical feelings you have, and the actions you take to protect yourself from the phobia. Then, they can help you work out how to change those feelings and actions.

How does it work?

CBT essentially retrains your brain on how you think about something. Bad thoughts are challenged, and replaced with more objective, realistic thoughts. Then you use new skills, goal-setting, and problem-solving to tackle those thoughts; this includes things like role-play and calming techniques when faced with potentially challenging situations. It helps you develop healthier thought patterns, and improvements can be seen in five to 20 sessions.


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My experience

For me, my phobia was quite severe. Aside from getting injections or blood tests, I couldn’t even talk about them, or look at a needle on TV, for example, without having physical symptoms. My therapy sessions were conducted over Zoom, as we were still in the midst of the pandemic and everything was done remotely. We started by outlining the cause of the phobia, and then moved on to my beliefs and assumptions surrounding it. We also discussed what would trigger physical symptoms, and the behaviours I would practice to avoid having to face needles (by doing so I was ultimately left with a fear that remained unchanged).

In each session, we conducted a different experiment, challenging the ideas behind what would happen if I were exposed to a needle. I would predict how long I could look at a photo of a needle for example, and then prove myself wrong by showing I was able to look at it for longer than expected. These experiments took place each week, and built up to me being exposed to a needle itself – which, luckily my sister- who is a nurse – was able to assist with.

By my sixth session, we felt my mindset had changed quite significantly, and I was able to put the therapy into practice: getting the Covid vaccine. I was booked to have it at my local pharmacy, and I took my mum with me. I felt I still required support, especially as it was my first experience post-therapy. While I did have elements of panic, I was able to have the vaccine with my mum’s support, and I didn’t faint – which was ultimately the goal of the whole experiment.

By the next vaccine, I still had my mum’s support, but she didn’t come into the clinic with me; I was able go by myself. My anxiety around it was still there, but nowhere near as severe as before. The aftermath was obviously substantially better too. By the time the vaccine booster came around, I went alone, and I have since managed to have injections and blood tests without fainting as a result.

It has now been a few years since I’ve been exposed to any needles, but last week I had a blood test booked in, and I had some worries about whether my mindset would have returned to its original state. While I did have some mild anxiety in the run-up, I was able to have the test without any issues. It’s safe to say my brain has been retrained for the better and CBT really did work for me.

 For more information about CBT, head to the NHS website or speak to your GP.

Lead image: HUSH

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