What would you do to try to overcome a phobia?
"If you fall off a horse, the best thing to do is to get back on inmediately. Otherwise, you might develop a fear of riding."
The core asumption of this advise is that exposing yourself to something of wich you are, or might be, afraid can cure or prevent that fear. Do psychotherapists agree? Consider the following situation:
Bill, a 21-year-old college student, suffered from a debilitating phobia, an intense fear of any kind of sudden loud noise. He had become so anxious about possible exposure to noises that he had almost no social life. Ballons were especially frightening (they might pop!), so he avoid birthday parties, weddings, and other events where ballons might be present. Bill's girlfriend insisted that he get help.
On the first day of his therapy, two people led Bill into a small room filled with 100 large ballons. One person stood close to Bill, while the other person explained that he was going to begin popping the ballons. While some 50 ballons where popped with a pin, Bill shock uncontrollably, tears streaming down his face. Bill had to endure the popping of another 50 ballons before he was allowed to leave. And he returned on the next 2 days for still more ballon popping.
During the course of 3 days, Bill became progressively less fearful and was eventually even able to join in steping on hundreds of ballons and popping them. in a 1-year follow-up, Bill reported that he experienced no distress in the presence of ballons and no longer avoided situations where he might encounter them. Neither was he ill at ease when he sat relatively near a fireworks display on the Fourth of July. (Adapted 1993)
Bill's therapists were using a rapid treatment technique known as flooding, a form of behavior therapy in wich patient agrees to be instantly and totally inmersed in the feared situation or surrounded by the feared object. Flooding is one of many effective therapies to manage and treat phobias.