Joe Thompson, a 12-year-old British boy, was stranded in Abu Dhabi with his father for over a year due to his fear of flying. But on Monday, with the help of hypnotherapist Russell Hemmings, Joe boarded a seven-hour flight to London without incident and was successfully reunited with his mother.

The entire Thompson family moved to Abu Dhabi in 2009 when Joe’s father, Tony, was offered a job at a private hospital there. When his contract was up in 2012, the family was supposed to fly back to the U.K., but Joe became so afraid that he was unable to make the flight. After four failed attempts at getting him to fly, the family decided to leave Joe and his father behind because his mother was starting a new job and couldn’t postpone her trip any longer.

“We got on the plane but Joe became so traumatized, the crew said he had to get off,” his father said.

For 18 months, the father and son rented apartments in the city and slept on friends’ couches hoping that they would be able to successfully fly home someday. The family spent large amounts of money as they extended the stay. Finally, Joe’s father allowed him to enter treatment with renowned hypnotherapist Russell Hemmings, who treated Joe for three months. “Russell was the best chance I had. He helped me out so much,” Joe said. “He taught me so much and I’m so thankful.”

Hypnotherapy uses “the power of suggestion” to change the subconscious mind. Hypnotherapists ask patients to relax and get into a completely comfortable space (sometimes even sleep), and then they give positive, beneficial suggestions in hopes of altering behavior. In the case of Joe, perhaps the suggestions were simple assurances that flying is safe and he had nothing to worry about.

Hemmings acknowledged that Joe’s fear of flying was very severe — so much so that he decided to take the trip with him to make sure he was able to relax. By the time they landed at Heathrow Airport in London, Joe was all smiles and his mother, Pauline, was relieved to be reunited with her son.

"It was just such a relief to have him back,” she said. "We were running out of options."