I have a massive fear of reptiles. Show me a picture of a snake or a crocodile and I’ll show you a 100-mile an hour sprint in the opposite direction! And I am not alone – as many as ten million adults in the UK are thought to have a phobia of some kind, from a fear of heights to being spooked by the sight of a spider. But Nik and Eva Speakman believe these fears can be completely cured just by asking a few clever questions.
Now the famous couple are taking their unique style of therapy on the road as they tour the UK with their new show, How to Be Happy.
Anyone who has watched the Speakmans in action on ITV’s This Morning, or on their own TV show, will have seen their almost instant results. They have cured deeply ingrained phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders in everyone from terrorist attack survivors to celebrities like Holly Willoughby, often while the show is still on air.
How do they do it? “Most therapy starts by looking at the symptoms such as panic attacks and fear but we’re not really interested in those aspects,” says Eva. “What we want to know is what started the fear so we can change or update the belief that you made in the moment you developed the phobia.”
That’s why Nik and Eva dedicate the first part of their therapy to teasing out when the phobia first took hold, going back in time often, until the last time the sufferer can remember feeling great. “No one has an anxiety for no reason. There’s always a trigger and a belief behind it,” Eva explains. “It’s often a protection mechanism that you created when you were in a position of danger. You felt embarrassed or something horrendous happened. And in that moment of being very emotional you made a belief and, from then on, started protecting yourself against certain situations.
“Let’s say you were bitten by a dog. You may initially fear all dogs and then perhaps all animals. If this happened to you, my questions would be which dog exactly was it? How often do you see this dog? What’s the likelihood of you seeing it again? And that makes you realise that you’re blaming all dogs for what one dog did.
“I know that sounds really simplistic but we are just seeing it for what it is, not for how it feels to you. If you’re not born with it, it means it has been created due to a life experience. So we
need to take a look at that life experience.”
It’s a straightforward process of revisiting the past which the psychotherapists practise every day at their Rochdale clinic and even when they are out and about and are approached by people in the street. Nik and Eva say you can practise their techniques on friends or even on yourself.
“Try to look back on the situation and your problem objectively and think about what caused it. Maybe an episode with a bully or your parents or when you had an accident, then ask yourself, what really happened in that moment? Pick apart the detail. Ask yourself, if a friend came to you and said this is what happened, how would you advise them?” says Eva.
Find out how to beat your fear of flying here
Their technique is so infallible that the couple put it into practice on each other and even at the dinner table with their two children.
Eva says: “I had a fear of heights, but it never particularly troubled me until one day for a TV show about phobias I had to zip- line from one skyscraper to another. “I looked down and thought, ‘Oh okay, Nik, I think I need your help’. I was standing on a skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles with Nik talking to me, treating me for my fear of heights.”
But it’s not just fear that the Speakmans deal in. Their new show, How to be Happy, is dedicated to getting the nation smiling again. “We want people to realise that they can have and be whatever they want. If something bad happened to you, we want you to realise that wasn’t necessarily personal to you.”
The concept of finding inner happiness may not be very British, but it does sound appealing.
“We’ve all got an absolute right to be happy” says Nik. “And a lot of the things we teach people, like self-esteem and being kind to yourself, you already know, but you might have forgotten. This takes practice. You don’t go to the gym once and suddenly get fit. And it’s the same with practising happiness.”
Eva agrees. “Quite a lot of us have opinions about ourselves that were neveractually ours in the first place. They might have been said in the playground or by a jealous sibling or things we overheard and misinterpreted.”
As for the Speakmans themselves, their happiness comes from being able to share their gift with people. “It never stops being humbling. Many people say we’ve transformed their lives or stopped them from getting into a desperate situation. We feel so lucky to be able to help.”
- For more information on phobias visit www.speakman.tv
A list of the five most common phobias
- Arachnophobia… the fear of spiders
- Ophidiophobia… the fear of snakes
- Acrophobia… the fear of heights
- Agoraphobia… the fear of open or crowded spaces
- Cynophobia… the fear of dogs
Discover how one woman beat her phobia of swimming here
A list of weird phobias…
Phobophobia, the fear of fear, is the thirty-seventh most common phobia in the world, while triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number 13 comes thirty-ninth. Sidonglobophobia is the fear of cotton wool balls and disposophobia is the fear of getting rid of stuff.