Updated: 10:14 Friday, May 13, 2005
myself into Derren Brown may just help me overcome one of my most deep-seated phobias.
I'll try it again on my own. And who knows, turning myself into Derren Brown may just help me overcome one of my most deep-seated phobias.
I can't honestly say I do. I still want to shudder with disgust. But during the mental exercise, I could feel that the sense of distance Phil was trying to bring between me and my irrational fear
could work, if I was able to concentrate on the technique properly.
Now, Phil says. Think about a spider. Do you feel any less fear of it?
I do so, repeating the process several times. In an added little twist, from that several-times-removed distance, Phil asks me to imagine the film running backwards at high speed, the whole thing
Now pull back again, and watch the person watching you watching the film, Phil says.
I pull back in my mind, and do feel the sense of repugnance at watching that spider lessened, as if by distance.
You're watching the film of you with the spider on a big screen. But now pull back a few seats, so that you are watching yourself watching the spider film.
Now, imagine you're in your own little private cinema, just you, Phil says.
I do so.
Now, make a film in your mind of what happened, starting with before you encountered it, through the worst moment, right up until it is over and you have recovered.
Phil takes over again for the 'therapy'. Think of a particularly unpleasant experience involving spiders, he says. I do: it's not difficult.
Totally irrational, says Susannah. What you're frightened of isn't the spider itself, but an exaggerated and unrealistic sense of some of its qualities: the fact that it is hairy, or can run very
fast, or is about to jump on you.
Ugh. Just the thought of them makes me shudder.
I do and I can feel it working. It's only taken a few minutes, and I haven't put the technique into practice in a real situation yet. But I can see how it could help. At first, Phil says, you'll
have to do it consciously. But after a while, it will become second nature.
Final step: instead of a window, imagine you're looking at that scene through a pair of coloured sunglasses: you're there, wearing the sunglasses, but the colour takes all the anxiety out of the
situation, Phil says.
I tense up straight away, thinking of the party. Then, seeing it through the filter of that lovely blue, begin to relax. Dirk tells me afterwards he can see my shoulders slowly losing their
colour you associate with that pleasurable feeling.
OK, Phil says. Now picture yourself in that situation you don't like: at a party or large social gathering. But imagine you're looking at it through a window, a window with glass exactly the blue
colour you associate with that pleasurable feeling.
Now focus on the feeling not the memory, Phil says quietly, his voice cutting into my reverie. I do: a feeling of utter bliss and fulfilment. What colour do you associate with it? Phil asks. Blue,
I say: a deep but tranquil blue.
I do so, conjuring up a memory of a holiday in Australia long ago - of lying in bed with my wife (then girlfriend) on a long lazy afternoon with the sea and a secluded sandy beach just a stone's
Phil takes control. Think of a situation in which you were utterly relaxed and at peace, he says, and focus on it.
I've always hated parties. I shrink into myself and become sullen and uncommunicative. How to overcome it?
So can Dirk help Stephen overcome his biggest fears?
Dirk, Phil and Susanna run the Bronze Dragon International Training And Therapy Centre in St John's House, St John Street, York. Individual therapy sessions cost £75-£80. Full training courses last
a week and cost £700. Telephone 01904 636216 to find out more.
Derren Brown is at the Grand Opera House, York, tomorrow night. (Click through to our What's On channel called twenty4seven to read more...)
But does it work? I set them a challenge: first, to help me overcome a fear of large social gatherings; and second, to help me beat an irrational fear of spiders.
Breaking those patterns of mental association, and learning to control our emotional and mental state can transform our lives, the three therapists argue.
Anxiety is a survival mechanism gone wrong. We learn from painful experiences. "How often do you have to burn yourself before you learn fire hurts?" But sometimes that ability to learn can be
harmful: a bad experience in childhood, for example, may leave us with a deep-seated, irrational fear of something ordinary.
It is partly about learning to control your emotional and mental state, and partly about recognising and breaking patterns of behaviour, says Phil. Irrational fears and phobias, for example, are
essentially habits of mind that we acquire, not feelings we were born with.
They can be used to beat phobias, boost confidence and self-esteem, help you deal with stress - and even help break habits such as smoking and eating problems.
They run training courses and one-on-one therapy and motivational sessions - and claim the simple techniques they use can help ordinary people overcome many problems.
That's what Dirk and his colleagues Susanna Bellini and Dr Phil Callaghan specialise in.
The good news for anyone who has been spooked by Brown is that they can learn the techniques he uses. We can all be Derren Browns. And while we won't all be great stage performers - that takes
years of training, hard work and practice - we can all use those techniques to improve our lives.
The way he often does it, explains Dirk, is by asking people for directions. While they are concentrating on that, he will suddenly say, in a disarming voice, "Could I have your wallet?" It's a
classic interrupt - and more often than not the distracted victim has handed over their wallet before they realise what they are doing.
It is done mainly by the use of what Dirk calls 'interrupts' - literally, interruptions in a chain of behaviour that leave the person being interrupted confused, a little disoriented, and
momentarily susceptible to suggestion.
Another good example of the way he does that is with his pick-pocketing. One of Brown's favourite tricks is to get people to hand him their wallets and then he walks off.
It all sounds simple. The key is the way in which Brown does it, Dirk says - elegantly, effortlessly, charmingly, and often by distracting your attention away from what he is doing by making you
focus on something else.
That, and other subtle influences such lots of red in the room and images of bikes scattered around, was enough to plant in the actor's mind the idea that he wanted a red BMX bike, Dirk says.
At the end of the conversation, he pulled it all together by holding the actor's shoulder for longer.
Thereafter, throughout their conversation, whenever he slipped in a word that he wanted Pegg to pick up on - red, or bike, or BMX - he subtly touched the actor on the shoulder again, so that those
words were subtly highlighted and became associated with pleasure.
What he was doing, says Dirk, was installing a conditioned reflex, what psychotherapists call an 'anchor'.
The mind magician began by asking Pegg to think of something that gave him real pleasure. When he could see that Pegg was concentrating, to the extent of feeling the sensation of pleasure
associated with whatever it was, Brown touched him on the shoulder.
That explanation, however, was only part of the story, Dirk says. Brown is a consummate performer and he's not going to give away all his secrets so easily.
What was going on was far more complex, being a subtle exercise in subliminal conditioning.
"It was all very elegantly and cleverly done," Dirk says. "And at the end of the show Derren gave the somewhat perplexed viewers an explanation of how he had very subtly marked out certain words
and letters to make Simon really want that bike, without him being consciously aware of why he wanted it."
Take the time Brown somehow convinced actor Simon Pegg that his fondest desire was to receive a red BMX bike for his birthday, something that, until he met Brown, couldn't have been further from
the actor's mind.
There is nothing of the kind, of course. Dirk, one of three 'human potential' experts at York-based Bronze Dragon International Training and Therapy Centre, says it is all done by a combination of
acute observation, deft distraction and subtle conditioning.
It is all a bit scary, and often leaves bemused viewers feeling there is more than a touch of the supernatural about Brown.
He seems able to pluck out information at will, mess with his subjects' memories and have them effortlessly dance to his tune while they are completely unaware they are doing so.
The man who will be bringing his Something Wicked This Way Comes stage show to York tomorrow has become legendary for the way he can apparently run rampant inside his subjects' heads.
What he is great at, however, is explaining how Brown, the magician and hypnotist turned manipulator of minds, does what he does.
When Brown looks at you with his frightening eyes you can almost feel your will bending to his own. When Dirk tries it - as a joke - he looks more like a startled cartoon cat than a master of mind
IT HAS to be said that Dirk Bansch can't quite pull off that moody, mystical, messianic stare Derren Brown does so well.
STEPHEN LEWIS discovers how to beat Derren Brown at his own game...
How does Derren do it?