Phobia self-treatment

Many people have to live with severe phobias that sometimes make normal existence almost impossible. Modern medicine can do very little about it. Either it offers nightmarishly expensive psychotherapies whose effectiveness is negligible, or it offers psychotropic drugs with dozens of side effects, which only mask the symptoms and after they are withdrawn the problem comes back.

Meanwhile, the treatment of phobias is trivial, even childishly simple. And very, very effective. For example, fear of spiders, arachnophobia. There are people who, seeing a spider on their clothes, strip naked and start running away, even in the street. They will not enter an apartment where they once saw a spider. Such people, after only a few weeks of the therapy described here, were able to pick up a bird spider the size of a small plate. No, I am not making this up or exaggerating, it really is that effective.

And we owe it all to one of the most prominent scientists of the last century, Burrhus Skinner, the founder of behaviorism, and someone I’m sure everyone has heard of Pavlov, the one from Pavlov’s dog. Skinner came from a very simple premise: humans are not as complicated as we think. It is we ourselves who make it difficult for ourselves to understand the human psyche, applying to it completely unsuitable criteria. We are like children who, seeing an ant, give it human feelings: fear, love, thinking. Meanwhile, the ant is something like a complex mechanism. For Skinner, a human being is also a mechanism, just more complex, and all the complicated terms we use to try to understand it have no practical use. They are useful for conversation, they are for communication, not for understanding.

This approach, of course, has met with a very sharp and negative reaction from the humanists. Quite recently one of the representatives of behaviorism visited Poland and our dear scientists pelted him with eggs and tomatoes. I even understand them a little, let’s look at a psychologist, for example. He earns a fortune, he feels that he helps people, solves their problems, he is someone important and necessary. And here comes a behaviorist and says that the same problem that the psychologist solves for several years at a cost of several thousand PLN, you can solve yourself in a few weeks. It is quite understandable that humanists get upset when they hear about behaviorism in its hard, basic variety, especially that behaviorists have powerful assets in their hands, evidence that their therapy simply works, while therapies based on humanism do not.

Ufff, I’ve rambled on, but maybe this will be useful to someone. If he hears from his psychologist that behavioral therapies are worthless, he will know why his doctor says so. All right, back to phobias. Behaviorism has a very simple solution here. Combine the stimulus that causes the fear with a pleasant stimulus. That’s it.

Therapy for phobias

I will describe it using the example of fear of spiders. At the first “therapy session”, they are only talked about, while some pleasant, relaxing stimulus is given. Experience shows that a relaxing massage works best. If we manage to combine talking about the spider with relaxation and a feeling of pleasure, our brain slowly begins to associate this arthropod with something pleasant and safe. At the second session you can already see pictures, at the third – a movie, then a spider in a terrarium, and so on. After just a few weeks, the fear disappears completely. It may seem unbelievable, but this is how it works. That’s how simple and uncomplicated we are.

Of course, the problem may be finding someone who can give you a proper relaxation massage. The solution is to use the muscle relaxation technique described on this page in this section: How to deal with panic attacks, but this is unfortunately a lot more difficult. To begin with, you should practice relaxing for a few weeks, so that when you are stressed you will be able to do it without any problems.

It’s important to do everything slowly, to gradate the “threat”. If someone suffers from agoraphobia and is unable to leave the house, for the first sessions he or she can simply go to the store or even to the balcony. Slowly, in small steps, you can permanently “reprogram” your mind. If we try to do it too fast, the effect may be the opposite, because we will panic during the session and “program” ourselves negatively. It is also worth adding that agoraphobia is not a typical phobia, it rather stems from generalized anxiety.

Of course if someone has panic attacks regardless of the situation they are in, the method described here will not be very effective. It will help, but only to a certain extent. Panic attacks, that happen regardless of the situation are the result of disturbed brain chemistry and need to be regulated, the method described here is designed to reprogram a brain that functions normally, only it has “learned” to associate some harmless stimulus (spider, height, enclosed space, water) with danger.

The method described here is unlikely to work in the case of agoraphobia, which is the fear of distant travel and being away from home. Agoraphobia is not really a fear of anything, but rather an expression of a general level of anxiety.