Using Dissociative Imagery to Treat Driving Phobia


For many people who have been in an auto accident, feelings of anxiety and panic can develop. It’s natural to be unsettled by something as frightening as a car accident, even if there are no injuries. It can take a while to grow accustomed to getting behind the wheel again. At first, being on the road after an accident might be a little nerve-wracking. Usually the negative experience is overcome after driving becomes routine again.

When driving-related anxiety doesn’t abate, driving phobia may develop. Driving phobia is much more serious and can have long-term effects. People who have driving phobia may delay getting a license until well into adulthood. If they don’t receive treatment, some driving phobics may never get a license at all.

Driving phobics who are interested in unconventional treatment that has yielded good results may want to look in to hypnosis and dissociative imagery. Both techniques were employed by Dr. Ann Williamson in a case study from 2004.

Who Was in the Study?

The person treated in the study was a woman in the UK who had been a driving phobic for two years. Like many people, she developed the fear of driving after a particularly bad accident. In the woman’s case, the event almost cost her life.

The woman wanted to regain control of her feelings and feel more comfortable driving her children to school.

How Was Hypnosis Used?

One of the techniques Dr. Williamson employed was re-vivification. Re-vivification allows you to put yourself in a more relaxed frame of mind by fully immersing yourself in a comforting and peaceful memory. This helps you to re-experience a calming and stress-free moment in the present. For the woman in the study, thinking deeply about how at ease she felt while painting helped her to access a positive, safe emotional state.

Dr. Williamson also taught her patient to focus on how she was breathing and how breath control can be used to lead into hypnosis. The woman was shown how to engage in self-hypnosis. She was told to practice self-hypnotizing one or two times a day for a few minutes. She was able to do this by envisioning a safe, tranquil place where she could metaphorically “dispose of” her negative thoughts and feelings. By regularly working on this task, the patient acquired the ability to enter a calm state of mind in any situation.

The therapist also used dissociative imagery to have the patient separate herself from the traumatic incident which caused the phobia. She simply pictured herself before a screen on which her negative memory was projected. The more she learned to manipulate and control the image, the less fear she felt.

After learning to use hypnosis strategies in two intensive sessions, the woman with driving phobia was able to drive again without panicking.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mikedavis February 17, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I’m a little confused by this article. Are you supposed to self-hypnotize while you are driving? It would seem to me that this could be dangerously inattentive to the road, leading possibly to another accident.


Rich Presta February 17, 2013 at 10:25 pm

The intent was to utilize the technique when not driving because as you say, it would be a safety issue to try it while on the road.


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