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Game of Thrones - Who Needs Therapy when you have This?

by Christopher Paul Jones(more info)

listed in nlp, originally published in issue 244 - February 2018

As a Harley Street therapist, I have sat watching one of my favourite programs, Game of Thrones, and found that actually, not only is it really addictive to watch (and entertaining), it is also a therapist's dream. Let me expand on this a little…

As the Breakthrough Expert who specialises in working with people to get rid of their fear, or phobia, Game of Thrones covers the topic of phobias brilliantly.


Game of Thrones - Who needs therapy?


Game of Thrones excellently demonstrates how a phobia can play out - and it also shows us that to have a phobia, you do not need to be ‘weak’ or ‘unable to cope with something’. But rather, that phobias can affect even the most badass people - and phobias are totally illogical. 

Phobias - they’re not just for the faint hearted

I know, it’s 2017 and you’d think that people would have realized by now, that having an anxiety, fear or phobia, doesn’t mean that you are weak, or that there is something wrong with you.

Sadly this is not the case. Often, friends and family members of those who might be struggling, tell them to pull themselves together. And for men especially, being ‘scared’ of something, especially ‘visibly’ scared, is still socially seen as a weakness. How many times have you heard someone say ‘you’re such a wuss!’ or something similar.

Having a fear or phobia does not make you weak. And getting rid of your fear or phobia is not always that easy.

That is because fears and phobias are created in the part of the mind that is not based on logic. So, if something is not actually based on logic, then how are we supposed to: a) understand it and b) actually deal with it?

A lot of fears and phobias are created from an experience that we have had when we were little - something happened, and we felt fright, or a sense of fear, and as a result of that, our subconscious mind decided to do its best to protect us.

For example, imagine if you were playing hide and seek with your brother or sister, and you decided to go and hide in a very small cupboard. You hear your mum calling you for ice cream and your head says yes, let’s get out of here. But when you try to get out of the cupboard, you soon realize that you are stuck in there.

Now, if this happened to you as an adult, sure, you would most likely panic. Let’s face it, who does like to be stuck in a cupboard? However, you would know that panicking would get you nowhere, and you would try to think of a solution.

However, as a small child, who has no concept of solutions, panic would take over, and your mind and body would go into fight, flight or freeze mode. How severe the phobia created from this would be would depend upon whether or not you could quickly resolve the situation.  But regardless of the end resolution, this would have an impact on you, because your subconscious mind would store this memory and then do its best to protect you.

And it would do its best to protect you by prompting you to panic.

Game of Thrones - Who needs therapy?

So, now that we know a little more about phobias and why some of us end up stuck with them, I want to talk about a Game of Thrones Character who has a really severe reaction to a fear or phobia - a phobia of fire. Better known as Pyrophobia. Yes, I am referring to the character named Sandor.

Spoiler Alert: Before we go any further, if you’re a Game of Thrones fan who has not caught up with the latest series, or you’ve been living under a rock and are yet to even watch it - then step away from this article, as I’d hate to give the game away to you. Okay, so now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Sandor…

Sandor - the ultimate phobia-suffering badass can teach us all a lesson

Now, you may or may not watch Game of Thrones, so I don’t want this article to be too heavily focused on the who's who in the series. But let me talk to you about the character known as Sandor (played by the actor Rory McCann).

Sandor is a tough character - a total badass. There is nothing about Sandor that you would refer to as weak. Sandor (better known as the Hound), cuts through people, swears a lot, has fought many wars, and taken on many challenges, yet when he sees fire, he switches off, shuts down and becomes a pathetic gibbering wreck.

In other words, Sandor, despite being a badass, hard-faced character, suffers with a phobia of fire - technically known as ‘Pyrophobia’. Which is a therapist's dream, and any phobia sufferers dream too actually, because he highlights the fact that a phobia is not determined by how strong willed or minded you are. A phobia is illogical, and the only way to deal with it once and for all, is to see a trained therapist, such as myself, who specialises in working in this complex area.

The series introduces the Hound’s fear of fire in the first season. Little Finger Petyr Baelish tells Sansa that Sandor’s brother Sir Gregor (the Mountain) got revenge on him for stealing his toy, enough to produce a reaction in any child - but Sansa’s reaction was excessive.

Game of Thrones - Who needs therapy?

“Gregor never said a word. He just grabbed his brother by the scruff of his neck and shoved his face into the burning coals and held him there while the boy screamed as his face melted.”

Now of course, this is not your everyday behaviour. Most of us don’t go around shoving our siblings face into hot coals because we catch them playing with our favourite toys. But all the same, this experience, had a profound impact on Sandor, and created a really severe phobia in him and this can be witnessed further on through the seasons.

In season two, in the battle of the Black Water as Stannis tries to take King's Landing, the Hound (Sandor) is fighting and is charged at by a man on fire.

You watch him shift from a brave warrior to being frozen by fear. Suddenly he just packs it all in, leaves the battle, quits his job as the King’s guard and flees the city.

Game of Thrones - Who needs therapy?

We see his fear again when he fights Beric Dondarrion. Beric uses a flaming sword, and you can see the shock in the Hound’s face before he starts to fight. This is when Aria realizes he has a fear of fire.

Now, to some fans of Game of Thrones, who have no understanding of phobias, and how and why they are created, they may watch the reactions of Sandor and think that he is just being silly. But as both you and I know now, phobias are not something that are rational and it isn’t about how tough and strong you are.

Even as the big hard guy, Sandor may want to avoid such reactions, but if his subconscious mind wants to step in and protect him from fire, there is very little that Sandor can do about it… other than coming to see me to get things fixed!

I think that what the character of Sandor does brilliantly is that he highlights this stereotype, and makes us think about how and why such a ‘tough guy’ would display such uncontrollable fear.

Some phobias don’t even exist for a reason

A lot of phobias don’t need an event as traumatic as having your face pushed into hot coals, to take root. I have worked with all sorts of very tough guys, martial arts experts, military men, and Special Forces guys; who have done and seen things most people would find terrifying, yet they don’t seem to have been affected by it.

Yet, on the flip side, they may have a phobia of something most people wouldn’t be bothered by, like spiders, or going in a lift.

This is because phobias are not based on logic. A phobia has nothing to do with how tough or how smart you are. It starts with an experience which triggers the brain to link fear to an event or object.

With the Hound (Sandor), it is very obvious what the first event was that started his phobia but, for most people, it is not always that clear.

It could literally be anything. If, for example, you have a fear of flying, it could be that as a young child you experienced a turbulent flight and in that moment your mind linked flying to danger.

Or it could be that you were watching a TV show where somebody falls off a cliff and in that moment your mind creates a fear of heights. Even watching how your parents reacted to a spider could be enough to create the same fear in you. If this fear is deep enough, whenever you encounter that thing again you will have the same emotions and feelings around it.

So, can phobias be ‘cured’? What can you do about it?

So how could the Hound remove his phobia? Is it even possible? Yes, it is. And the first step is to help the Hound create a place of safety in is mind. Clegane says to Brienne “safety, where the F~#@ is that?” and that suggests to me that right now in his subconscious mind, there is a pattern recognition system running, where he sees fire and reacts with fear and, because of this, his mind tries to make him run.

One way to create safety so it’s easier for him to let go of his fear, is to create a trigger for safety that is linked to positive feelings and emotions.

So, how exactly would you do that?

The key is to think of or imagine times when you felt completely calm.

It could be sitting on beach, or with family or friends, basically anything that makes you feel relaxed and safe.

Now imagine going back to that time and notice all the images, feelings and sounds that go with this event. When you have fully connected to this positive event, squeeze your fist to create a link between the emotion and the gesture, and as the emotion fades release your fist. Keep repeating this as many times as you like and then test it by squeezing your fist.

Notice what you feel. If it’s strong enough, just the act of squeezing your fist in future will bring back that feeling of safety.

Once we have done that, we can now re-educate his subconscious to see fire and not become terrified. One way to do this is through something called ‘cross lateral stimulation’.

Basically, if you focus on your fear while doing the exercises described below, the mind cannot hold the fear and focus on the exercises at the same time, so the mind starts to let go of the fear. This is most effectively when done on the first, or trigger, event. In the Hound’s case, it would be going back to when his brother attacked him.

To do this, look straight ahead while thinking about your fear. Now, allow your eyes to move slowly from left to right passing between the bridge of your nose.

Keep repeating this left to right process, while thinking about your fear, and you’ll notice your phobia reduce in intensity.

Another way to help the Hound would be to reduce the intensity of the images he links to the phobia. This could be done by making the event funny, because it’s very hard for the mind to hold two opposite emotions at the same time.

If you play around with the event and make the images small, remove the colour and run it backwards, or give it Mickey Mouse ears and circus music, it changes the dynamics. Keep playing with the images until the feelings associated with it are reduced.

It’s a shame Sandor is not around today and is fictional, because, if he was, we should be able to remove his phobia quite quickly, and in time he and Drogon the dragon could maybe become the best of friends.

Instead, let’s see what the Game of Thrones does with him and his phobia in the following seasons. And maybe now that you understand that he has a phobia, you will view him quite differently.


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About Christopher Paul Jones

Christopher Paul Jones Certified Trainer NLP, Master Practitioner NLP, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), aka The Breakthrough Expert, is a therapist based in Harley Street who specialises in helping people let go of their fears, anxieties and even their phobias; from a fear of public speaking to anxieties around work, Christopher has helped 100s of people ‘let go’ and get their lives back. He even cured his own morbid fear flying, to the extent he was able to take a sightseeing flight through the Pyrenees – strapped to the OUTSIDE of a helicopter! For contact and more information please visit
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