At the End of Treatment for Phobias (part two)

by | Nov 16, 2014 | Phobia, Psychotherapy

2. Try to get panicky! In a way this is what you have been doing all along. By entering into phobic situations, getting panicky, and remaining to deal with those feelings, you counter the basic causes of the phobia: the fear of being overwhelmed and the urge to withdraw. Early in treatment, or before treatment has begun, you may have been able to frighten yourself just by imagining yourself in the phobic situation. You could feel peculiar just by thinking, “What ifI begin to feel peculiar?” But no longer. In order to get panicky at this stage you may have to go further into unfamiliar situations than you ever thought would be possible. If indeed you cannot get panicky no matter what you do, you may be well along to a cure. Even so, you will surely get panicky spontaneously once again sometime in the future. Count on it. It is in the nature of the condition:

3.      Try to get lost! Get into a car and drive a distance by yourself down unfamiliar roads. Enjoy the trip if you can. Then find your way home. Look at a map, if you like, and by all means ask directions. This is not an exercise in survival techniques but a simple demonstration of what everyone else already knows: In this day and age of sprawling cities and interconnecting highways, it is impossible to get lost for more than a few minutes at a time. Nor is it possible be truly alone when a telephone is never more than a few feet away (not to mention cell phones). The fear of getting lost or finding yourself forever alone must be seen once and for all for what it is: illusion.

4.      Begin to slowly reduce your use of tools in the phobic situation. If you have been carrying around a can of soda in case you should choke or a paper bag in case you should hyperventilate, leave it behind. If you have managed to drive places by calling people from time to time, turn off the phone. If you have been calling someone on the telephone before going to see him–in case you should become incapacitated along the way and need help–now is the time to prove to yourself that you can manage all by yourself. You may feel more comfortable giving up these devices a little at a time, for example, by substituting a small can of juice for a can of soda, then liquid-filled candies for the juice. More often, just putting them aside all at once is easiest.

Of course, these are strategies only for the last part of treatment. (c) Fredric Neuman