In Countering Fear of Flying, Try a Therapy called ‘EMDR’

by David Lanza

In my opinion, one of psychotherapy’s greatest advances of the past 30 years, “eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing” was developed in the late 1980s to help patients suffering from traumatic memories and PTSD. In EMDR the person being treated recalls distressing experiences whilst doing bilateral stimulation, such as side-to-side eye movement or physical stimulation, such as tapping either side of the body. It thus utilises the human nervous system’s ability to process information to digest those experiences that have marked patients – whether large or small – thus reducing the symptoms that they generate in the present. This makes EMDR an ideal option for treating aerophobia, and here is some of how it can help:

It Addresses the Root of the Problem, Shortening Treatment Time

Unlike other less up-to-date therapies, EMDR goes right to the aerophobia’s origin – not exposing patients to object of their fear over and over again, but rather allowing them to digest those experiences that originated the fear in their start to build from a secure foundation. It’s much more effective for the brain to work on a traumatic experience and dissolve the imprint that experience has left on the nervous system than to have to repeat an experience 100 times trying to make the result positive so that it competes with “that event” that marked patients so such a degree.


It Avoids Re-traumatisation

Contrary to popular belief, mere exposure to our fears is not always the solution, nor is it the safest. If, for example, when we were little we were bitten by a dog and we go to a park with the aim of exposing ourselves to dogs because we believe that it is the ideal way to stop being afraid of them, the impact of coming into contact again may be so triggering that instead of learning “it’s safe to approach a dog”, what you end up with is having a greater phobia than the one you had. This is due to the effect of trauma, and the same holds true for fear of flying and exposure to airplanes. Of course, it’s useful to gradually expose patients to what they fear, but always after having elaborated the traumatic memories that have influenced their learning with that particular experience. Otherwise the cure will end up being worse than the disease. When we work with EMDR this is something that we take into account, and in this way we avoid possible re-traumatisations and ensure the true improvement of the patient’s condition.


It Improves Self-Regulation

Improving the ability to calm down is important in any therapeutic process, even more so when patients’ conflict is about getting on a plane. With EMDR we can use their own natural resources and empower them in order to use them in stressful situations when flying. The immersion that we achieve by recreating in session situations that are difficult for the patient (the takeoff) is greater than that achieved with other more conventional strategies. This favors the implementation and usefulness of these tools when the time arrives to board and the patient needs that extra security.


It Works with the Body

Fear of flying manifests itself not only through catastrophic thoughts and overflowing emotions but also has a effect on the body. Therefore, working with a therapy that takes into account how anxiety manifests itself physiologically a guarantee of a comprehensive approach to the problem. When we’re very afraid, our body shrinks and tenses, working on emotional-regulation strategies aimed at feeling safe in the body and placing it in a specific place. Thus it becomes an ally when boarding on a plane and helps give fearful flyiers greater autonomy to feel safer.

If you suffer from aerophobia, I hope this post has helped you decide to try this type of therapy, because after having worked with many treatment modalities over the years, I do feel this is definitely the best recommendation for you.

David Lanzas

Psychologist specialising in anxiety and trauma

Founder of the  Instituto Lanzas | @Psicolanzas