Fear and Phobia

Spiders and Insects

Cue the pendulum. “You are getting sleepy … veeeeeery sleeeeepy …”

OK, wake up. That may be Hollywood’s version of hypnosis, but that’s not how it’s really done, not in Richard Barker’s clinical practice. I should know. I recently had a session with the young guru himself.

I was eager to see what he could do about my debilitating fear of spiders. (Note to co-workers: Don’t even think about it.)

On his website, Barker states that most fears are learned in an instant and can be removed in an instant. That being said, it usually takes one to three hourlong sessions for clients to realize full results. Still, I was hopeful we could make headway in the one hour session.

Barker assured me that while I would be in a highly relaxed state, I would be in control the whole time. There would be no spontaneous blurting of deep, dark secrets — at least not without my consent. Still, would I be able to submit to hypnosis?

I closed my eyes. Within seconds, the buzz of any worry and background noise faded. My subconscious seemed to understand that only Barker’s voice mattered. I was very, very relaxed, completely attuned to what was being said yet aware that I had total control.

During the session Barker used a combination of age regression, neuro-linguistic programming and emotional freedom techniques to help rid me of a fear that had recently intensified. (A few weeks prior, I had had a particularly frightening experience when I flipped on the bathroom light and was greeted by the sight of a huge-by-my-standards spider splayed on my white shower curtain. I had since been unable to even enter the bathroom without my husband first inspecting the shower.)

A few times Barker tested me to ensure I was hypnotized. I was aware of my participation in these tests, but not of their purpose; nevertheless, I passed each one. I was “under,” for sure.

I was able to breathe deeply, switch chairs to look at my younger self, and lift and lower my arms, all without caring about anything at all. At one point Barker had me replay a scary encounter with a spider over and over while guiding me to replace my fear response with the sound of circus music. I remember him humming and tapping the “do-do-do-do-do-do-DO-do-do-do” on the table, and it all seemed perfectly natural.

And then it was over. I opened my eyes. I felt … dreamy, and kind of giddy. We chatted for a while, and I went home. I was trying not to dissect my experience, but I was aware there had been some kind of shift in my consciousness. I didn’t put my finger on it right away, but later it hit me: I was actually kind of eager to see a spider. Or maybe I was eager to see how I would react to one. By the end of the day, though, I figured maybe I had simply been on a hypnosis “high” and that tomorrow I would be as afraid as ever of my eight-legged enemies.

The next morning, I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower without a second thought. Wow. The next day, I paused momentarily but was able to proceed. By the third morning, I did have to ask my husband to make sure the shower was spider-free. So what, the hypnosis hadn’t worked after all?

Not so fast. It’s been a few weeks now, and I’m happy to report that while I don’t consider myself arachnophobia-free, I do feel that something has changed. I’m still not comfortable with spiders by any stretch of the imagination, but my fear is no longer consuming me.

The morning of this writing, I awoke from a dream in which a large, irregularly shaped black spider was scooting across dining room table. Yet instead of paralyzing fear or profound revulsion upon awaking, I found myself chuckling. And with that, I walked into the bathroom, pulled back the shower curtain and turned on the water.

By Sara Schweiger TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF