A 12-year-old British boy who was stranded in the United Arab Emirates for 18 months after developing a debilitating fear of flying was finally able to return home yesterday – thanks to hypnotherapy.
Joe Thompson, from Weston-super-Mare, in Somerset, landed back at Heathrow accompanied by his father, Tony, 62, and hypnotherapist Russell Hemmings, to be reunited with his mother, Pauline.
The schoolboy, who had been hypnotised on the plane from Abu Dhabi to control his phobia, said: “I’m so happy to be home. I can’t believe how cold it is here.”
He added: “I just want to get home and see my dog. I haven’t seen him for two years and want to give him a big hug.”
Joe had travelled to Abu Dhabi with his family in 2009 without any problem after his father took a job as a manager at a private hospital.
But in March last year, Joe – who had previously had no problems flying – developed a debilitating disorder and became terrified of flying. His condition did not improve, and he was unable to return to Britain with his family as planned in June that year.
His father, Tony, said: “There was no event that prompted it. It just happened out of the blue. And the fear is quite acute.”
Joe’s phobia made any form of long-haul transport difficult, and an attempt to send him home by cargo ship failed due to a problem securing visas.
While the rest of his family returned to Somerset, Joe was forced to remain in the country with his father. The pair stayed with friends while Joe tried four times to board a flight home. Each time he broke down in tears and was unable to make the 4,500-mile journey. His parents have spent about £40,000 trying to cure Joe’s fear and on cancelled air fares.
In July, Mr Hemmings, a British ex-pat living in Dubai, offered to help Joe for free and has been treating him twice a week. He used hypnosis and cognitive behavioural therapy to help him stay calm during the flight.
He said: “Joe started having a meltdown at the airport, but we worked through the issue.
“On board I was able to bring him down, calm him using hypnosis techniques. The results were amazing.”
Joe said: “My mum and dad have been great and I’m so grateful to Russell for taking the time to help me. I just can’t wait to get home and get back to my life.”
The schoolboy, who hopes to be a professional rugby player, has missed more than a year of school so has plenty to catch up with back in Weston-super-Mare when he returns this month.