Fear of spiders? You can escape that web
People undone by arachnophobia holding a huge, hairy tarantula in their bare hands? No worries, not after a single brief therapy session changed the brain's fear response in adults with the life-long, debilitating phobia of spiders.
The "exposure therapy" experiment was small, done on 12 adults, who all held or petted the spider afterward, the study from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine reported Monday.
"A lot of people are afraid of spiders, but in order to meet the criteria (for a phobia), it has to be a clinical diagnosis and interfere with your life," says author Katherina Hauner, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology. "One participant would avoid walking in grass."
This is the first study to document the immediate and long-term brain changes after treatment and to illustrate how the brain reorganizes long-term to reduce fear, the study says.
In therapy lasting two to three hours and different for each person, participants were taught that troublesome tarantula thoughts were untrue.
Exposure therapy gets its name from exposing a patient to what he fears, says Todd Farchione, research assistant professor at the Boston University Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. "A lot of it is about dispelling people's beliefs. You can get significant changes in a short period of time."
The adults learned to approach a tarantula until they could touch the outside of the terrarium. Then they touched it with a paintbrush, a glove and eventually with bare hands.
Immediately after, an MRI scan showed the brain regions associated with fear decreased in activity when people saw spider photos. When they were asked to touch a tarantula six months later, "they freaked out in a good way," Hauner says. "They said they couldn't believe they were doing this."
To see more of USAToday.com, or to subscribe, go to http://www.usatoday.com
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
Disclaimer: References or links to other sites from Wellness.com does not constitute recommendation or endorsement by Wellness.com.
We bear no responsibility for the content of websites other than Wellness.com.