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A London Zoo Wants to Hypnotize Away Your Fear of Spiders

This program turns what phobics perceive as terrifying threats into fuzzy friends

(DLILLC/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Does the thought of spiders make your skin crawl? Does your definition of hell include up-close and personal interactions with eight-legged arachnids? If you have arachnophobia, the mere mention of spiders may make you want to close this tab and move on to a less creepy article. But there is hope of breaking the arthropod-induced cycle of fear. As Ella Morton reports for Atlas Obscura, a new program in London is helping people overcome their spidery fears with the help of hypnotism.

It’s called the Friendly Spider Programme, and it’s the brainchild of the Zoological Society of London. Assisted by hypnotist John Clifford and the London Zoo’s head of invertebrate conservation, Dave Clarke, the program was designed to help people whose fear of spiders is negatively affecting their lives.

With the assistance of caring professionals, participants learn more about how phobias become stuck in the subconscious. They also delve into the history and evolution of spiders, participate in group hypnosis and—when they're ready—meet an array of eight-legged creatures. They can even have their family members and friends sponsor their journey from fear to friendliness, with funds benefiting spider conservation.

Morton writes that the program, which has been operating for 20 years, encourages participants to pair up with a “spider buddy” for moral support. Clarke tells Morton that the idea that humans are inherently afraid of spiders is “rubbish” and that exposure therapy can have a lasting impact. That claim has been backed up by other zoos with spider desensitization programs, like a successful Australian program that reports that some former arachnophobes even returned to visit their new friends.

If you’re eager to work through your arachnophobia, keep your eyes peeled for the next ZSL program—this year’s has sold out. That could be good timing for spider-sensitive visitors to the city: London is currently experiencing an infestation of false widow spiders that’s so severe, it’s had to close down multiple primary schools. That’s shudder-worthy whether you’re usually afraid of spiders or not—but then again, it could be the ultimate desensitization exercise.

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