Millions of people have a debilitating fear of spiders. Arachnophobia is one of the most common phobias in the United States and around the world. Across the pond – the London Zoo is on a mission to help people overcome their anxiety.
Spiders are creepy and crawly and for some people, downright terrifying. “I can’t walk up the stairs without having all the lights on because I once had a spider in the corner of my stairs,” says London resident Gemma Ogundele.
“I rate my fear a 10 out of 10,” says British psychology student Aylana Brewster. “I had a full-on panic attack to the point where I got so stressed out, my nose started bleeding.”
They are two of the participants at the London Zoo’s ‘Friendly Spider Program’ which aims to detangle their webs of worry.
“I used to be scared of spiders,” says London Zoo spider keeper, Dave Clarke. He’s helped more than five thousand people shed their dread over the past 30 years. “We know we’ve had 98% success, which is amazing,” he says.
The one-day course mixes psychotherapy with hypnosis. “They live a life of fear, you don’t need that fear,” says hypnotherapist John Clifford. “You can be free of that fear,” he says.
But first, students must face their fear – by holding a variety of arachnids, from common British house spiders to tarantulas. They learn how to hold them as well as how to release them into the wild.
Experts at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio believe arachnophobia could possibly come from a childhood trauma involving spiders or a fear passed on by a parent.
“My cousin used to chase me around with a spider, put one on my face – I woke up – been scared ever since,” says participant Darnell Hornsby.
But when class is finally over, many turn from bug squashers to spider lovers.
“Who knows, I might have them as a pet,” Hornsby says jokingly.
Brewster wouldn’t go that far but says she’s spun a more confident connection with the eight-legged critters.
“I’d probably rate my fear about a three out of ten,” she says.
The class costs just under 200 dollars and the money raised from the Friendly Spider Program goes toward protecting threatened spiders in the wild.