I've always been rather frightened of clowns, and I've always been rather frightened of dolls. Watching Joe Dante's The Hole , I was confronted with not just one or other of those, but both at the same time. Like Poltergeist before it, Dante's film goes for the psychic soft spot with a hideous little clown doll.
And I'd be lying if I said I didn't find it uncomfortable viewing.
So, it was with an eye on finally growing up and getting over these ridiculous hang-ups that I agreed to speak to a specialist and see if my phobias of clowns and dolls could be stamped out. The PR teams for The Hole were paying, so I had nothing to lose except my fears.
I was told that just ten minutes on the telephone with The Phobia Centre's Ildiko Scurr would be enough to vanquish my fears – and permanently too. If you think this claim sounds preposterous, then don't prejudge: hang on and find out just what her method would be.
To be honest, things were going to take some unexpected twists, and I was to find myself feeling not entirely unlike Louis Theroux.
What follows is a partial transcript of my conversation with Ms. Scurr. At various points she asked me to perform certain actions. Just take it as read that I was, indeed, performing these actions.
Well, I saw The Hole and there was a scene with a clown doll. I've always been rather frightened of clowns, and I've always been rather frightened of dolls, so for me, this was the perfect storm. Unfortunately.
Probably quite difficult viewing, I should think?
Yeah, I did look away for a moment.
I can imagine. It's actually a very common fear. I've done some research into clown phobia, or coulrophobia, recently, and you'd be amazed how many people do have a fear of clowns.
I've always said I don't have a phobia of clowns because a phobia is an irrational fear, and I feel I've got a very rational fear of clowns.
Okay. And what makes you scared of clowns? Why are you scared of them?
I think it's two things. I think it's that they're uncanny – they have something that looks like a face but the mouth is wrong, the features are highlighted incorrectly. It's kind of recognisable as a face and there's a face in there too, so there's some kind of conflict there between the two. And I think the other thing is there's an undercurrent of sinister ideas that people have attached to clowns and have for a long time. This idea of "crying on the inside". I think it's a very old idea, far older than films even. I think it goes back to when clowns, somewhere along the line, started getting represented in this way.
I don't know what came first. If when I first saw a clown as a child I already had those emotional associations, or if they came from seeing the clown. As a kid I saw clown puppets that distressed me. Again, with a puppet, it's kind of real and it's kind of not.
Absolutely. And you've hit the two reasons for people developing, in the extreme event, a phobia about clowns. One is mask, the other is that, in the public consciousness now there's a sinister creepiness about them. Also, they go right back to medieval times when there was a court jester and, once a year, the fool of misrule, the lord of misrule. He was supposed to express all of those hidden feelings and desires that people were not allowed to express on a daily basis. The lord of misrule was sort of a safety valve once a year. There has always been the unacceptable face of the base emotions that people are not supposed to express.
Things like Stephen King's It and the horror film Chucky have actually created quite a lot fear in people who were children at that time. Like yourself, you obviously saw clown puppets when you were young. It seems to be quite a distressing thing for a young child to see this distorted version of a human face.
If I'm out in public now and I see a clown, I can't look at it and I keep my distance. If it's a photograph of a clown I can catch myself stepping away.
I don't get frightened at all when I see horror films. I know they're just films, how they work, but I went with my wife and friends to see Zombieland. There's a moment in the middle of it where there's a clown zombie which appears out of the blue – you don't know that it's going to happen. And I don't remember it appearing, but I do remember, suddenly, my wife and friends laughing at me because I had just screamed and leapt out of my seat. Now, I don't even remember the shot, just the aftermath. And that's not really what I'm like, and not really what you'd want an adult to act like.
You can't stop these reactions, that's the thing. You think "How embarrassing" and "I don't want to react like that anymore" but when you're confronted by what you're scared of, there's no way of stopping yourself from going in to that fight-flight response. It's the body's natural reaction to something that seems to frighten us.
I don't know if you know much about what I do, about Thought Field Therapy?
Not much at all.
Okay. Well, Thought Field Therapy is a way of interrupting that program. It doesn't deal with reliving problems or fears, what it deals with is actually switching off or deactivating the emotions. It's very effective because we don't always know where a fear or a problem comes from and with a talking therapy, there's a need to analyse, a need to understand logically where it's coming from. With Thought Field Therapy you don't actually need to do that. You just think about whatever upsets and through a very specific sequence of points you tap on the body, it literally deactivates that emotion. So, when you think about the same though again, you don't get the same emotion, you don't get hit anymore. So that's what I do.
Okay… So, effectively the process that you teach people to practice is one in which they repeatedly think about the thing that they fear and then they apply touches on parts of the body…?
The acupuncture points. There are fourteen points that are used but it has to be a very specific sequence. If you imaging something like morse code? That is tapped in a very specific sequence. It's the same thing with how to switch off the program, like a computer running a program you don't want anymore. You just literally delete it by deprogramming it. That's what you do with Thought Field Therapy.
Once the fear is gone, it tends to stay gone. I just treated a lady who has a fear of needles and of pain. She hasn't been able to go to the dentist for 24 years and she's just booked herself a dental appointment today. Before that, she would not even consider booking an appointment. What I did was I actually deactivated her fear of going along and having an injection.
But obviously there's a value in some fear. It's just things that we consider phobias that we shouldn't be frightened of?
Quite right, yeah.
So is there a risk that we might be desensitising ourselves to things that we should be frightened of?
Oh no, not at all because the only thing that gets switched off is the actual emotion, but the knowledge, the understanding and core belief are not touched at all. It's just the emotion itself. And, you know, when the emotion is switched off, the rational brain takes over and then you can, in your case, look at a clown and say "There's nothing to be scared of, so I'm not scared". So it actually changes your perception of the situation in the moment.
And how long does this take?
A few minutes.
Yeah, so I will demonstrate to you. What I want to do is… you already told me you used to get scared by puppets when you were young. I don't want you to upset yourself but just visualise a clown and tell me on a scale of one to ten how uncomfortable you are with that image. One being no discomfort and ten being as bad as it could possibly be.
I just shivered, so I'd say somewhere around about seven.
That's the fight-flight response kicking in. To you, that's the fight response, not the flight response. The body immediately starts reacting to the thought that you just brought to mind carries active information about what the feeling is attached to that thought, so you just felt it physically.
That's fine. Now I just want you to just bring to mind a time when you were a child and you saw one of these puppets.
It keeps popping in my head anyway.
Okay. So on a scale of one to ten now, how do you feel, thinking back?
Like an eight or nine.
That's okay. I don't want you to feel any more uncomfortable than that. So I'm going to ask you now to tap on those points on your body and I will explain to you where I want you to tap.
Now, I'm just going to list the actions she had me perform, in the order she had me perform them, and then we'll get back to the conversation:
- The side of my little finger, tapped with three fingers on other hand (she said "just light taps, definitely not to injure")
- Inside corner of eyebrows , close to nose
- An inch under my eye
- Two inches under an armpit, doesn't matter which side
- Tap with four fingers under the collar bone
- Tap the inside corner of the little finger nail
- Repeat tapping under the collar bone
- Stop ("This is not about distraction though it might feel it is")
At this point I reported a drop in discomfort – "Maybe not as bad, but still something. For whatever reason the image wasn't quite as vivid in my head this time" – and we went on with the tapping.
- The point on top of my hand between knuckle of little finger and next knuckle
- Close eyes
- Open eyes
- Look down to the left hand corner
- Look down to right hand corner
- Roll eyes in clockwise direction
- Roll eyes in an anti-clockwise direction
- Hum a few notes of happy birthday – though it doesn't matter what song it is
- Count from 1 to 5 out loud
- Hum the notes again
I now reported that the images was "Significantly less vivid." Obviously, now I knew what this therapy was, I was full of questions:
I want to put this in the nicest possible way because it is a question, a genuine question, but is the order of what I've done important?
Yes. Totally. It has to be that order for trauma. We call anything that has happened in the past, a bad experience, a trauma. And this is a specific sequence for trauma. If it were another emotion, it would be other parts on the body you would tap.
Okay, so I want you to just keep focussing on what remains and I want you to go through the first sequence again.
We did this. We tapped all over the place for a couple of minutes.
And where would you put yourself on a scale of one to ten this time?
We're standing still. We're kind of where we were.
Okay… so now concentrate on that image and do it again.
So, now for the third time, I followed her instructions and tapped myself in the specific sequence, closed and open my eyes, rolled my eyes, hummed and counted in reverse.
I would say we're at less now. Well… for a moment it was less. It's hard to describe.
I want you to finish off by tapping your hand again and then looking as far down as you can, rolling your eyes up all the way and across the ceiling as far as you can go…
Which is not so far, but okay…
Okay, now I'm having to make a bit of a trip to get to the image. I'm having to go looking for it.
Now think of an image of a clown. Are you getting the shivers?
No, I didn't shiver. I feel that I'm having to try to bring the image to mind, but I can still bring it to mind.
That I suspect is because there's other times that need to be treated, other traumas. It's like removing the layers of an onion until there's nothing left. But this demonstrates to you how in a very short space of time you've change from shivering instantly when thinking about a clown to not getting that shiver response.
Okay… sure. Now… how was this discovered?
Yeah, it's quite extraordinary to make that leap of deduction. The clinical psychologist who discovered and developed this was trying to treat a patient of his who had a sever fear of water. He'd been trying to treat her for 18 months without any success at all, trying to get her near to an indoor pool. He went to an acupuncture lecture the previous evening and learnt about the stomach meridian. Now, the stomach meridian has one of it's points at the stomach, and the other under the eye, the second point I tapped with you, an inch under the eye. And that's the fear point.
So when she came the next day she said she's terrified of water and she feels sick. And he just wanted to stop that sicky feeling, so he aid to her "Mary," because Mary was her name, "Mary, tap under your eye and see if we can stop the sicky feeling. And you know what? The whole fear just switched off. And the next thing he knew, after eighteen months of her not going anywhere near that pool, she rushed to the pool and splashed her face. That's how he realised something significant had happened. That was thirty odd years ago, and since then he developed all the other points from that. Discovered, I should say, and developed them.
Do you keep busy doing this? I've never heard of it it before so I don't know… Do enough people know about this to keep you busy?
More and more people are getting to know. One of the people who does it and puts it out there is Paul McKenna. In fact, all of his books now include a section on Thought Field Therapy. So he's putting it high profile.
Myself, I've been doing this private practice for eight years now and I'm also a trainer, training others in these techniques. I am busy because, of course, more and more people are finding it a struggle to cope on a daily basis. It's very difficult. People are finding that they are really thinking. And to have a technique that can actually make you feel good in a couple of minutes because you can switch of anxiety, you can switch off things like anger, fear, it's very good and very powerful to have that.
How is the mainstream culture of psychology and psychiatry with you? Are you guys on good terms or are they kind of frosty about you?
I personally think that, really, there needs to be a lot of education in the new science. This is the new science. This is based on quantum physics. This is based on the new science of energy medicine which is becoming more and more available and understood. And as we understand more and more about quantum physics we start to understand why these techniques work. It's all to do with things like fields. Fields have influence. Michael Faraday came up with the concept of fields, our gravitational field for instance – you can't see it, but it's there – and we're starting to understand that thoughts, for instance, exist in an energy space, rather than inside your physical head. And that's why we can use Thought Field Therapy so rapidly, because what we're doing is deactivating energetic information. So, mainstream medicine and… I have a lot of people who are counsellors, hypnotherapists, NLP practitioners, they come on the course and they're absolutely blown away by what Thought Field Therapy can achieve. And lot of the time they actually take it up as their number one therapy and use the other therapies as just a support. So, yes, it's gaining ground, definitely.
Did you get the information that you needed?
Absolutely. I'll just relate what happened and instead of offering any explanation of my own, I'll use yours…
So, to be clear, the above explanation of Thought Field Therapy is 100% not my own.
Incidentally, I've since looked at Joe Dante's The Hole again and I can report that my reaction to the creepy clown doll was more or less on a par with the first time – I squirmed a bit and looked away for a moment, but managed to watch most of the scene with a mild discomfort. Not bad going for a family film, Mr. Dante.
As for Zombieland… I'm not dicing with that beast. I could spend a life time tapping on my stomach meridian and never get in shape to face up to that particular clown again.