Could a therapist REALLY cure your biggest fear? FEMAIL writer with ‘extreme’ lifelong phobia of dogs reveals results of five weekly sessions – with surprising results
A mother-of-one has revealed how she was able to get over her ‘paralysing’ lifelong phobia of dogs with just five weekly Zoom sessions with a therapist.
Cheralene Lavery, from London, saw her mother badly bitten by a dog when she was a child and has been ‘terrified’ of the animals ever since.
She revealed she was so frightened she would ‘freeze’ whenever she saw a dog, defriended people if they got one as a pet and even ended relationships over it.
However she sought the help of Lauren Rosenberg, who founded Fear Busters in 2011, and promised to transform the way she interacted with dogs.
Here, she tells FEMAIL readers the startling results and explains how the experience ‘changed her life’…
Cheralene Lavery, from London, has revealed how she was able to get over her ‘paralysing’ lifelong phobia of dogs with just five weekly Zoom sessions with a therapist
The mother-of-one revealed she was so frightened she would ‘freeze’ whenever she saw a dog, defriended people if they got one as a pet and even ended relationships over it
‘For many people spending time with dogs is a joy, but more people than you think have cynophobia- a persistent, debilitating condition caused by an extreme fear of dogs.
‘It’s believed around 1 in 20 people are affected by this and I’m one of them.
‘I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been terrified of dogs. I think it stems back to my mother being badly bitten in front of me when I was a toddler.
‘This experience has led to me either freezing if I see a dog, or fleeing where I am.
However she sought the help of Lauren Rosenberg, who founded Fear Busters in 2011, and promised to transform the way she interacted with dogs
‘I’ve defriended people if they get one and even ended relationships over it.
‘My reactions have always been extreme, but I’ve found them even harder to control recently as we’re all spending more time outside and living through a post-pandemic puppy boom.
‘Dog owners constantly tell me to “not panic” because their dog is “harmless” and the logical part of my brain knows this is true, but unfortunately fears are not logical and this doesn’t help me one iota.
‘Other people tell me to stroke their dog to get over my phobia, but what they can’t feel is the rising panic inside me and the way my brain is telling me to run whenever a dog is near.
‘My partner has accepted he won’t ever be able to have a dog because of my fear- even though he would love one.
Chearlene revealed how dog owners constantly told her to ‘not panic’ because their dog was ‘harmless’ – but said this didn’t help with her phobia
Despite Cheralene being initially sceptical of how much Lauren could help her, it wasn’t long before she was using techniques in her real life
‘I also have a little boy who wants to stroke every “doggy”, but can’t because I won’t let him go near them.
‘I’ve made him leave the park, the beach, the farm because a dog’s got too close. It’s no way to live and something needs to change before I pass my phobia on to him.
‘Luckily help could be at hand in the form of Lauren Rosenberg, a London-based therapist.
‘Her website describes how she has a near 100 per cent success rate in helping clients overcome cynophobia – using holistic therapies and a method called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
She said her young son wanted to stroke ‘every doggy’ but was unable to because she ‘wouldn’t go near them’
‘Even though Lauren’s reviews were so positive I was still sceptical ahead of the first session because I wasn’t wholly convinced anything could help.
‘Plus, post-pandemic Lauren leads her sessions over Zoom and I wasn’t sure something that was now online could make any difference. How wrong I was!
‘Lauren instantly put me at ease because she creates a safe space where you have the freedom to talk openly and address your fear.
‘One of the first things I was asked to do was draw a tree. Mine was small and floated in the middle of the page.
The bizarre therapy that promises to TAP away your trauma: NHS-approved EMDR therapy loved by Prince Harry uses hand taps and eye movements to ‘process bad memories’ and stars including Mel B and Jameela Jamil swear it ‘saved their lives’
The idea that you can process severe trauma by tapping your hands and moving your eyes might sound a little outlandish even to those with a firm belief in the benefits of psychoanalysis and talking therapies.
But EMDR, which Prince Harry praised for helping him process his past, has a host of celebrity fans from Kate Garraway to Mel B and Jameela Jamil who claim it quite literally saved their lives after suffering PTSD.
The principle of EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, is that the mind can heal from trauma by using external stimuli to help the brain process the traumatic experience and facilitate healing.
Experts have compared it to the physical practice of removing a foreign object from a wound to help it heal, and in the UK, EMDR is recognised as a treatment for PTSD by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and is offered on the NHS.
During sessions, a client will be asked to hold different aspects of a memory in their mind. They are then encouraged to use their eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision, or to tap their hands.
Studies have connected these processes with the biological mechanisms involved in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which bring out internal associations and help people to process memories and disturbing feelings.
Prince Harry was seen closing his eyes and tapping his chest during a therapy session via videolink with Sanja Oakley, a UK-based psychotherapist, which aired on his extraordinary new Apple TV+ show.
Some believe the eye movements allow you to process memory in the same way as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, when you dream but your eyes flick around.
When asleep you can’t decide to focus on one event but when you’re awake and flicking them around you’re more in control.
The idea is that the mind can heal from trauma by using mental processes that helps to unblock the impact of a traumatic experience so someone can heal from it.
Experts have compared it to the physical practice of removing a foreign object from a wound to help it heal.
Sessions see eye movements used, with the client asked to hold different aspects of a memory in their mind. They are then encouraged to use their eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision.
Studies have connected this with the biological mechanisms involved in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which bring out internal associations and help clients process the memory and disturbing feelings.
This is then meant to help clients conclude that EMDR therapy makes them feel empowered by the experiences, with the wounds closed and transformed.
More than 100,000 clinicians around the world are said to have used the therapy, with millions of people treated with it over the past 25 years.
‘It had quite symmetrical green loose leaves, a brown trunk and sporadic roots.
‘It turns out that amongst other things it showed I’m someone who likes to be in control.
‘No wonder I struggle so much with my phobia because it makes me feel completely out of control.
‘I didn’t realise at the time that Lauren would ask me to redraw this after 5 sessions- what a change I saw.
‘My tree was bigger and rooted to the ground. It had big green leaves, a blue sky overhead with a bright yellow sun and birds flying around it.
‘Until then I hadn’t realised a picture can show how your mindset has changed, but this certainly did.
‘You’re probably wondering how 5 weeks of sessions led to me feeling completely different.
‘In brief, me and Lauren spoke about my phobia, how I believed it started and my past experiences.
‘She taught me EFT- the technique Prince Harry used when he was having therapy in the recent Apple TV documentary.
‘This involves tapping specific points on the body, mainly the head and the face, in a particular sequence.
‘While doing this you repeat a mantra which calms you and helps you deal with your fear. I also learnt that repeating 365 in my head works in a similar way.
‘I have no idea how or why these techniques work, but they do. They helped me build my strength and confidence and gave me a coping strategy when faced with a dog.
‘Between sessions Lauren was always on hand through WhatsApp and email. It meant someone was holding me to account to follow through on trying to beat my fear.
‘Plus, if I struggled with something Lauren would offer immediate support, as well as addressing it at my next session.
‘At one point I was on holiday and I couldn’t get myself to step on the beach in case a dog was there.
‘In my head I thought the dog was prowling ready to jump on my little boy. It wasn’t and Lauren made me see this. The next day I went back to the beach and had a lovely day.
‘My biggest breakthrough though came when we used a technique called matrix imprinting.
‘Simply put, it’s a technique that connects you with past trauma and enables you to transform them moments into supportive ones.
‘By using your imagination, you go back to painful memories and change what happens.
‘For example, a moment where a dog jumped up at me in a park and I froze, became a moment where my mother was at the park with me and the dog was on a lead and calmly walked past.
‘You still know what the reality was, but in the future your brain won’t immediately focus on the trauma instead it will think of the new image you have created.
‘After a lot of tears I realised that because I’d been holding on to my fear for almost all of my life I’d created a belief that any dog I saw would hurt me, or the ones I love. Realising this wasn’t true meant things started to change.
‘Firstly, my heart stopped racing whenever I thought about dogs. Then I was able to walk past them without changing direction or crossing the road.
‘When I took my little boy to the park I no longer felt terrified that a dog might approach us.
‘I could even sit through meals and enjoy them when other people had their dog with them.
‘The turning point came though when I left my hairdressers and a dog outside wasn’t on a lead.
‘It came over and licked my shoe and I stayed calm.
‘Pre my sessions with Lauren I would have started shaking, or screaming, but instead I told the owner her dog was cute.
‘This was a life changing moment where I realised my fear of dogs no longer needed to control my life and that I could start to live more normally and without constant anxiety.
‘A couple of months ago I would have thought it impossible for me to overcome my 30-year fear, but Lauren proved me wrong. Fear Busters really does work!
‘The future feels bright and I’m looking forward to letting my little boy finally stroke a ‘doggy’.
‘This experience shows it’s never too late to face your fear because if I can overcome cynophobia then there’s hope for everyone.’
After her sessions with Lauren, the mother-of-one said ‘the future looks bright’ and she feels she has totally overcome her 30-year-fear