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Fear of Flying? by Robert Salvatore, LCSW
Do you use tranqualizers or alcohol prior to or during a flight to reduce anxiety? Aviaphobia, or Fear of Flying, is the second most common phobia I am asked to treat (public speaking is the first). Although behavioral treatment is more costly than a prescription, it is usually a permanent cure. And you will not experience the anticipatory anxiety which may occur weeks prior to your flight. I can typically help you in 1-4 sessions.
If possible, I would like to see you a minimum of two sessions prior to your flight. But often, people call for an appointment only several days before the big trip. If I determine that you have no trauma history (emotional or sexual abuse) and that there is no other psychiatric disorder, I can provide your treatment at the intake session. I have had many patients report feeling cured after one session, even for patients who were traumatized by a prior scary flight experience.
Your honesty during a good initial assessment can prevent any surprises. If the source of your phobia is any childhood trauma(s), be aware that treatment could cause those traumatic experiences to resurface. In this case, we will first treat and resolve the earlier traumas before tackling your Aviaphobia.
We have a number of different treatment choices to help you conquer your fear of flying. In my experience, the quickest treatments for any phobia are Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and hypnoanalysis. EMDR is a psychoneurological process that relieves the anxiety accompanying any unpleasant or traumatic memory. When you are traumatized, the feelings, bodily sensations, and thoughts about it may be encoded in your neural pathways in what is called state dependent memory learning and behavior. EMDR appears to rewire the neural paths as the feelings are discharged; the thoughts about the trauma move from negative to neutral to positive.
While EMDR is the most powerful and effective treatment I have seen in all my years doing psychotherapy, it does not stop every phobia. Many patients respond just as positively to hypnosis. I teach self-hypnosis and record a personalized tape for you, which you can play before and during a flight. Using hypnoanalysis and one of the many uncovering techniques, I can ask your unconscious what is causing the phobia or symptoms. It is then a simple process to then reframe the cause, and ask the unconscious' help in resolving your problem. Most people can be successfully do hypnosis, once it is explained that you are always in control. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.
On rare occasions, when neither of these techniques works, I will use systematic desensitization and imaginal exposure. These techniques take more time to work. In all cases of Aviaphobia, I will use my experience as an instrument rated pilot to educate you about your particular concerns about flying.
If you have any questions regarding any of these treatments, please call me. I would be happy to discuss therapy options with you and provide you with additional information.