Slowly Approach the Object of Fear

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There is a formula for overcoming fear. In the world of counseling, applying any formula is always an art form, as no two people or situations are alike. Nonetheless, the process of overcoming fears (in forms such as phobias and post-traumatic stress) has been one of the most replicable and scientifically-validated techniques in the entire world of counseling.

Every time I’ve encountered something in my life I’m persistently afraid of, I’ve used this formula to overcome it. When I was in college, I spent a summer in Orlando, Florida, in a house without air conditioning, where I was introduced to a wide array of large and sometimes airborne cockroaches. Given my childhood fear of large insects, I found myself terrified every time one suddenly skittered into the room. I slowly developed the courage to pick up the dessicated dead bodies of the roaches that were to be found around the edges of the garage. At first, I had to scream and shake and drop them immediately. After a while, I got interested in studying their anatomies, moving the little legs of the exoskeletons around. I started picking up the more recently-dead ones, still heavy, almost alive-feeling. After a few days of this, I captured my first live cockroach, followed by more screaming and shaking. By the end of the summer, me and a couple other guys in the house used to drop live roaches on each other as a game. Instead of being afraid, I made friends and playthings out of the bugs that had been my nemeses!

Slowly approaching the object of fear, step by step, is possible no matter what it is that seems scary. This video starts where the previous installment left off, helping people to chill out enough that they can freak out in a relatively-controlled manner, rather than checking out. Maintaining this balance, while moving closer and closer to fear-inducing thoughts and experiences, makes it possible to heal phobias, general anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here are some thoughts about how to work with each of these.

This video is part 4 in an ongoing series on Overcoming Fear

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About the Author

Steve Bearman, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He founded Interchange Counseling Institute in 2002 and is the lead teacher of Interchange's San Francisco-based year-long counseling and coaching training. When he's not counseling people, leading workshops, and advocating for social justice, Steve climbs mountains, adventures in the urban wilderness, explores the edges and limits of what's possible, deconstructs everything, and finds new ways to put it all back together.