Claustrophobic? Lock yourself in a cupboard, says research

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  • Expert claims dealing with fears head-on retrains the brain

For most people their worst nightmare is facing their fear head on; arachnophobes, for example, wouldn’t want to be covered in spiders.

But a researcher has claimed that confronting fears head on can actually be beneficial and help people get over them.

In controlled experiments she locked people in cupboards to help them deal with panic attacks and anxiety disorders, and she says the method could be used for other phobias as well.

Speaking to The Times, Dr Andrea Reinecke from the University of Oxford explained how getting people to face their fears could cure them of their phobias.

The method is known as single-session, exposure-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

For example, shutting them in a broom cupboard for 15 minutes could cure them of panic attacks and anxiety disorders in just one session.

According to her study in the journal Biological Psychiatry, a third of patients were cured after one day of treatment.

The method involves ‘retraining the brain’ into recognising that something it took to be a fear is actually not as bad as thought.

In the case of the broom cupboard Dr Reinecke told The Times: ‘They only go in for 15 minutes , but I don’t tell them that.

‘They think I might keep them in there for the night.

‘We know that after 15 minutes anxiety goes down naturally if they don’t do anything.’

Performing the treatment helps patients realise that their fears were not as bad as they thought.

For example one patient who had suffered panic attacks for 16 years was able to cope better using the simple therapy treatment.

And Dr Reinecke says the single-session CBT treatment could be used in place of drugs for patients suffering certain mental conditions.

She has been awarded a grant of £225,000 ($358,000) to trial the method for other phobias, including forcing arachnophobes to watch spiders up close for 30 minutes.

 

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