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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How can I overcome my fear of spiders?

    I have to work at a summer camp for three months next year and I'm really looking forward to it! However I am terrified of spiders and other big insects. I know it sounds silly but it's such a big fear that I know I need to get over.
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  • 1

    Thanks

    I'm passionate about helping families, couples and individuals with the pressure of life, no matter where the difficulties originate. In therapy we find the source … View Profile

    Yes, I think many people battle that fear of spiders, but yet you can put a small infant who has not developed that fear of spiders in a room with spiders and they'll just want to play with them. It is a developed fear, like many fears that people face today, and all fears have some sort of basis from which they started. In a therapeutic environment, we would talk about past experiences, where you've had negative experiences with spiders or maybe someone in your family, your mother or your father's also afraid of spiders. We can look a little bit into your past and see what sort of things have started this fear and then, through a process of what's called “gradient exposure”, we can find out that spiders are actually fairly nice creatures if you treat them respectfully.

  • Michele Glassenbury

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Michele is a fully registered clinical psychologist.Michele hopes to assist clients in gaining meaning from the past, an ability to live in the present and … View Profile

    Specific phobia (anxiety about one thing) is best treated by a psychologist.
    Treatment involves a combination of CBT, relaxation strategies and graded exposure.
    Sometimes specific phobias, such as fear of spiders develop after a specific indecent, but more often they are instinctive or innate in nature. That is, as humans we have a natural fear of things or situations that could potentially harm us, such as spider, snakes or heights etc. Other causes include modelling from the environment or usually by someone else in the family who also shares the fear.

  • 1

    Thanks

    Anthony Berrick

    Psychologist

    A fear of spiders is very common (and perhaps for good reason here in Australia). Yet, very few people ever seek treatment for this phobia, even though cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for Specific Phobia has an outstanding success rate and is one of the most effective psychological interventions for ANY disorder.

    The reason for this, is that most people are reasonably happy to go through life simply avoiding spiders wherever possible - their fear of spiders doesn't hold them back from anything particularly important in life - so they aren't motivated to do anything about it.

    You've identified a pretty good motivation for overcoming your spider phobia, so I'd strongly encourage you to seek help from a psychologist who is experienced in using CBT to treat phobias. Most clients of mine who I've successfully treated for phobias describe experiencing a change in the way they relate to their fears generally (not just in relation to the specific phobia), which feels very liberating and can have pretty profound implications in other areas of life.

    CBT for a phobia would go something like this: 

    1. You work with the psychologist to decide on your final treatment goal - do you eventually want to be able to pick up a spider/cockroach/stick insect with your bare hands or simply be near one?

    2. You learn skills to be better at being with your anxious thoughts and feelings without them overwhelming you or pushing you around, then practice these skills across a range of situations so that you are able to apply them in real-life.

    3. You start a process of 'exposure' therapy where you apply the skills you've learned to handle your anxiety in the context of the specific phobia, until you're eventually able to achieve the goal you set. 

    This process requires some courage, but a skilfull clinician will be able to help you along the way, and, importantly, you are in charge of the entire process. You will never be rushed or pushed into doing anything until you're ready.

    Good luck, I hope you go for it!

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