Psychologists at the University of Manchester revealed Monday they have come up with a new way of helping people overcome their fear of spiders.
Dr. Warren Mansell says rather than encouraging arachnophobics to face their spider fears, which is the current approach of many therapists, giving people control over how much they approach or avoid what they are afraid of is more likely to help.
Mansell based his findings, published in Journal of Anxiety Disorders, on a theory known as Perceptual Control Theory.
People with a fear of spiders sat in front of a screen and were themselves able to control how close or distant the spider would appear.
He said: “Perceptual Control Theory predicts that it is vital for a client to have control over their experience of important elements of the environment like the sources of threat, because control itself is pivotal for health and well-being.
”We recruited a large sample of people with high levels of spider fear and asked them to list their reasons for avoiding spiders but also their reasons for approaching spiders.
“After completing a simple task in which they could move an image of spider closer or further away on a computer screen, people who had control over their virtual distance from the spider actually got closer to the spider after completing the task. They also reported avoiding spiders less in their everyday lives two weeks later, despite their fear, and without any prompting to do so.”
He added: “This implies that therapists treating phobias and anxiety may not need to encourage or direct their clients to face their fears, as is often assumed.
Once people are made aware of their mixed motives, they may make choices that address their fears. We feel that this outcome is useful for therapists treating people with fear of spiders.
”In future we need to see whether this kind of simple intervention can make a lasting difference to the distress and disruption phobias can have in people's lives.“
One of the co-authors of the report, Dr. Sara Tai who worked on the study, told Xinhua she is not afraid of spiders, and allows them to climb her hand.
She explained: ”There are numerous reasons for a fear of spiders, just as I have come across people with phobias of lizards or frogs. It is linked to conflict. We developed a theory using graded exposure to the spider, and found it helped when people themselves were in control of the degree of exposure using a computer joystick.
“We found this helped people control or overcome their fear,” she said. Dr. Tai is a senior lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Manchester.
She is currently involved in clinical trials and experimental research developing psychological interventions for psychosis and bipolar disorders in Beijing, Texas, Philadelphia, Illinois, Britain and other parts of Europe.