Without a doubt, one of the most severe phobias is the fear of spiders, which a new study is apparently able to cure in less than two minutes. That may be so, but here is why the new arachnophobia therapy is not that good for you.
- Most venomous spiders are not in fact able to inject enough venom to kill a person
- Throughout the 20th century, there were only 100 actual deaths caused by spider bites
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is arguably the best therapy to get rid of phobias
- Flooding, as a therapeutic exercise, is mostly shunned by the psychological community
Mankind was born in fear, lives in fear, and will die in fear. Be it the fear of the dark, the anxiety felt when asking somebody out, or the fear of death, which represents the unknown, there wasn’t really a time when humanity wasn’t afflicted with a phobia.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have come up with a way to allegedly cure arachnophobia in less than two minutes. The study made waves across the internet, with people actually hoping to get rid of their irrational fears with a derived treatment.
The concept on which the treatment is based, reconsolidation, was developed by a neuroscientist named Joseph LeDoux 15 years ago. It claimed that when a previously consolidated memory is activated, it can be weakened or strengthened.
Of course, the concept does have its merits, and based on it, Dr Merel Kindt developed the new treatment.
The study used a sample of 45 arachnophobes, which were placed in the company of a huge tarantula in order to activate the particular memory and emotion related to their fear, and then they were given a dose of Propranolol, a medicine for heart conditions and hypertension. Or at least some of them were, anyway. The others were given a placebo.
The results were, unsurprisingly, positive. Out of the participants who were administered the drug, most of them not only got rid of their phobia for up to a year, but also started being interested in spiders.
And this is where the apparently successful experiment failed, despite the published paper.
In therapy, having a patient confront the source of his anxiety, directly and intensely, is called flooding. It is usually frowned upon by the psychotherapy community, as it can lead to lasting traumatic damage.
The usual way to approach a phobia is through gradual exposure. The patient is confronted with some form of his phobia, in this case let’s say a picture of a spider. He is then taught how to become relaxed in its presence. Future sessions will incorporate more and more threatening stimuli, but only gradually, so that the patient has the time and experience to fight off his anxiety himself.
In the case of the new treatment, patients are thrown in the middle of their worst fear, without any lifelines, and are administered a drug that changes how they physically feel when in the company of the aforementioned fear.
This will lead their psyche to become not only confused, because of their mixed feelings regarding the event, but also traumatized, becoming linked with other psychological issues, and building upon them.
So, a person with a fear of spiders, for example, when administered the new experimental treatment, would suddenly start feeling interested in the spider, instead of terrified of it. This would lead his subconscious to start making false connections, getting involved in a cognitive dissonance, and would eventually end up tying the trauma to a different fear or anxiety, causing a myriad of future issues.
The treatment is still in testing, with a lot more experiments needed in order to be approved. And if the reconsolidation is also coupled with some much needed therapy after the traumatic event, who knows? It might even work out, in the end.
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