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Arachnophobic or Just Plain Scared

So you think you’re afraid of spiders?

Are you afraid of spiders?

Will you actively avoid activities in case you encounter one?

Do photos or videos of spiders make you anxious?

If this sounds like you, you could be arachnophobic.

What is Arachnophobia?

Essentially arachnophobia is an excessive, life altering fear of spiders. One that will impact your everyday life and cause unstoppable or snowballing anxiety and emotional distress. People develop arachnophobia for different reasons. Some believe we are predisposed to a fear of potentially life threatening things such as a fear of heights or a fear of spiders. Others believe that the fear is cultural. Western Society often villainizes spiders, so we're brought up believing that they are a threat. And others will develop a fear of spiders after a traumatic encounter.

There’s no easy way or one way to treat arachnophobia. Everyone’s experience is different, and everyone’s fear is different. But generally, according to clinical psychologists like Sophie Li, the most effective treatment is exposure therapy.

Exposure therapy is a series of sessions aimed at helping a person suffering from arachnophobia understand that their most extreme fears are very unlikely to ever come to fruition. The sessions require the arachnophobic to confront their fears in a factual and educational environment.

Image: James Horan © Australian Museum

Sophie Li held a series of Arachnophobia Workshops at the Australian Museum as part of the current Spider – Alive and Deadly exhibition. She believes that the sessions go a long way in helping a client cure or at least manage their extreme arachnophobia. 

“The goal of exposure therapy is to provide situations where a person can assess whether that belief actually occurs or not,” says Sophie.

It involves a gradual exposure to spiders, and can start off with looking at a picture or videos of spiders and gradually each task will become more challenging.

The sessions, use cognitive behavioural therapy, with controlled exposure and live demonstrations to help people confront and overcome their arachnophobia.

Those who attended the workshops did see an improvement, even if small, which is ultimately life changing for those individuals. Gillian Scott, the Manager of Exhibitions at the Australian Museum, has been plagued by a fear of spiders.

I’ve had moments of absolute terror and panic.

Gillian attended the sessions hoping to cure herself of her extreme arachnophobia as it wasn’t a “pragmatic fear for her to continue living with”. After the sessions, she had a "new appreciation of spiders.” She describes the experience:

Being with specialists, Sophie and her colleagues in a calm environment, just really facilitated the whole experience and some of the things we were asked to do were all at our own pace, and for me that was helpful.

Though Gillian was not completely cured, her arachnophobia has been treated, so much so, that she even allowed a spider to crawl across her hand.

I came out with a greater appreciation of spiders and even the ability to let one walk over my hand!

Image: James Horan © Australian Museum

Read more about the Australian Museum’s Spiders- Alive and Deadly Exhibition here


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