March 11, 2003
Whether you live in fear that a frog will jump on you or are consumed by thoughts of dirt in your kitchen, Dr. Phil suggests you try self-directed systematic desensitization to overcome your fear.
Though some people are paralyzed by a fear for their entire life, the typical time it takes to treat and eliminate a phobia is less than 10 hours. Your fear may have nothing to do with the stimulus that sends your heart racing, so you can slowly learn to confront it and overcome your phobia.
Step One: Relax. This is a hard step because even when the stimulus is not present, you may not know how to relax. Learning how to relax takes practice and time. You may want to try:
Step Two: Introduce the least threatening aspect of the stimulus. For example, if you are petrified of frogs, you may want to start by getting comfortable looking at a picture of a frog. If that’s too much for you to start with, try imagining a forest where there may be a frog, or the sound of a frog, or simply try looking at the word “frog.” Use your relaxation technique to calm yourself as you introduce this element. You may also want to use imagery to demonstrate that you have conquered this aspect, such as throwing the picture in the trash, or blowing it away with your breath.
Step Three: Gradually move closer to facing the phobia.
Select the next level of fearful aspect of the phobia and repeat the process. Using these successive approximations, you should avoid projecting too quickly onto the full phobia image. Be careful not to go too far in conquering your fear. For example, if you are afraid of fire, you need not get to a point where you feel comfortable walking on coals! Functioning daily without the fear interfering may be the right place for you to stop.
One trick may be to imagine yourself as someone else, such as Superman or Wonder Woman, as long as you are still recognizing that you are under your own power. When your alter-ego has conquered the fear, then try switching back to your ordinary self.
Step Four: Generalize your relaxation to other parts of your world. Oftentimes the phobias may be triggered by other cues. For example, you may have been feeling a loss of power that somehow became associated with frogs. But this sense of vulnerability can be aroused by other stimuli. By relaxing to the many things that happen in your life, you can minimize the chances of arousing your phobia.