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Snake Phobia

Abstract: Describes the successful therapy of a person with snake phobia.

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Snake Phobia

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Written by: Gunborg Palme, certified psychologist and certified psychotherapist, teacher and tutor in psychotherapy.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 22 Aug 2008.

I live in a suburb outside of Stockholm where there are fine paths for walking and I really ought to use them as I am overweight. I do so in the winter, but in the summer I daren't go into the forest, where they all go, because I am afraid of snakes. I feel almost paralyzed if I see a snake and I imagine that I see snakes sometimes, even when there aren't any. I have had this fear of snakes since childhood and it prevents me from getting some of the exercise I ought to have. I have had psychotherapy for several years and it has been good in many ways. I understand myself much better, but the snake phobia is still there and hasn't improved. What can I do? Tell me about curing a phobia.


Read this article with pictures of snakes.
Read this article without pictures of snakes.

My Snake Phobia Prevents Me from Taking A Walk in the Forest

In order to find out just how to treat your snake phobia I have to meet you, but I can relate what I did with one patient, whom I will call Rebecka, who was afraid of snakes.

Picture of patient touching a snake

We began by looking at photos of snakes in an encyclopaedia. Some pictures aroused amazing fear in her, but others were less terrifying. I sat beside Rebecka and let her feelings emerge completely so that she could fully experience them. The next step was to let her pat the snake pictures and as previously let her fully experience her feelings. After this she was asked to buy a plastic snake and bring it to our next meeting. Buying the snake was part of the treatment of phobia and she found it difficult, but proudly managed to do it. When she came to me with the snake she had great respect for it and had had it carefully packed in the shop; she was afraid of it. She was then asked to look at the snake from the other side of the room followed by going closer order to band holding it. Then we played with it and at the end, Rebecka was not the least bit afraid.

Picture of therapist handling a snake The next step was to arrange a session in the terrarium at the local zoo. When we arrived Rebecka was very nervous. We went into the souvenir boutique in front of the terrarium, where there were many plastic snakes, and I let her go in and pat them. Then we went into the terrarium and one of the keepers brought in a boa constrictor and described how snakes react. They are not able to get attached, but experience us as other objects, e.g, a tree trunk. Through his calm and sensible talk Rebecka got another way of experiencing snakes other than her own. The keeper held the snake while Rebecka went slowly closer to it and dared to pat it. At this point she had a strong attack of fear and I helped her to go into her feelings and get more contact with them. It ended with her crying about her classmates who had terrorized her in school with plastic snakes and other means for such a long time. Then Rebecka became very angry about their cruel behaviour towards her.

After all this Rebecka was quite happy and energetic and I decided to act. I lifted the snake and let it coil itself round my neck in order to show that one needn't be afraid. Normally I would certainly have experienced this as very unpleasant, but I was now the therapist and determined to help Rebecka. I gave the snake back to the keeper and Rebecka took it from him and finally dared to let it coil round her neck. She had brought her camera and I took pictures of her which glowed with the victory and triumph in her eyes when she had the snake around her own neck.

Picture of patient handling a snake After being with the snake we walked round the terrarium and Rebecka looked with interest and without any anxiety at all the other snakes.

Rebecka is now free from her snake phobia. She is no longer afraid of snakes and goes for long walks in the forest, which she couldn't do before. The reason it is possible with this kind of treatment of phobias that the patients are most afraid of their own anxiety and not the object of the phobia. If patients are helped to get into their anxiety, meet it and find that they can manage it, then it can disappear.

(Pictures included with permission from Rebecka, whose real name is something else.)

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