According to “Wing Tips,” February 2013, more than 53 million air travelers passed through Denver International Airport in 2012, setting an airport record. If you were one of the airline passengers, you were among a daily average of 145,633 passengers who traveled by air at DIA. When traveling, most vacation passengers are excited about their trip. They may be visiting a fun and exotic destination or simply visiting family or friends. Even business passengers have some fun. There is a population of travelers however who are plagued by the fear of flying, “aviophobia”. Research is minimal. One of the studies dates back to 1980 when two Boeing researchers found that 18.1 percent of adults in the U.S. were afraid to fly. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that 8.7 percent of Americans have a fear of flying so intense that it qualifies as a phobia or anxiety.
“Specific Phobias,” classified under anxiety disorders, is an unwarranted or irrational fear of something that poses little or minimal danger. They are recognized as phobia of animals, blood, heights, travel by airplane, being closed in and thunderstorms. These patients may worry about what they might happen if they have to confront what they are afraid of such as fainting, losing control or having a panic attack. Specific Phobias are twice as common in women as men (NIMH). Phobias may be the result of trauma, parental impact on childhood, or observing something traumatic.
Debbie, a woman in her 40s, was healthy and fit. She had seen her primary physician 3 months ago and was given a clean bill of health. In her presenting statement, Debbie said “I am afraid to fly”. Debbie’s anxiety symptoms were initiated by the prospect of flying to Dallas to visit her mother for the holidays. As Thanksgiving 2012 approached, she feared flying even more intensely, and stated she had not flown for 2 years. She stated she had flown from Colorado Springs to St. Louis in 2010 and her plane had circled the field for nearly an hour due to thunderstorms. She also reported that the flight was unusually bumpy, the plane was full, and many of the passengers were airsick. There was no one to help as the flight attendants were strapped in their seats. They finally landed safely, but it was the last time Debbie had flown in an airplane. She reported even the thought of driving to the airport made her feel short of breath and sick to her stomach. She came for help because she recognized this fear was unreasonable and it was embarrassing. She did not want her fear of travel to interfere with her personal life or become disabling. She stated she did not want to take any form of medication while flying. Debbie was diagnosed with Specific Phobia, Situational Type.
Treatment choices for anxiety depend on the severity of the problem and the preference of the patient. Some of the treatment choices include medication such as an anti-depressant, or anti-anxiety drugs as well as psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy to change thinking patterns and behaviors that support the fears, and hypnosis. Research has shown that hypnosis is used as a complementary therapy by therapists to help eliminate phobias or reduce their strength.
In discussing a treatment plan with Debbie I suggested we use a combination of psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and hypnosis to introduce positive life changing suggestions into her sub-conscious. Consequently, Debbie was able to identify and reframe the triggers associated with her fear of flying. She successfully flew to Dallas to visit her family for the Thanksgiving holiday in 2012 and after a 6-month follow up had no recurrence of symptoms when flying.
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