Asked by: Phil Harper, Leeds
Exposure therapy is probably the most successful. Arachnophobia (from the Greek for spiders and fear) affects roughly half of women and one in 10 men. It may even be an instinctive response, evolved among our ancestors to avoid dangerous species.
Arachnophobes often think about spiders and avoid situations where spiders may lurk, or even where they may see pictures or videos of them. This strategy only increases their fear.
Effective treatment begins with information about how spiders behave, how fragile they are, and facts about the very few that can harm us and the majority that cannot. Relaxation training helps the patient learn to relax before they are gradually exposed to ever more realistic spiders. They may begin with webs and very distant photos of spiders, gradually progressing to closer and more realistic ones.
Virtual reality spiders in different settings can help, until finally the arachnophobe is introduced to the real thing. They may even end up able to handle enormous tarantulas and forget their fear completely.