Community Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Psychology Saltzman Center

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet – Conquer Your Fear of Flying

There are many people who dread the idea of traveling by plane, but if a phobia of flying is grounding you or someone you know, counseling is available. The Phobia and Trauma Clinic at Hofstra University’s Joan and Arnold Saltzman Community Services offers treatment for patients whose fears interfere with normal life activities. An added feature of the Clinic is state-of-the-art virtual reality equipment that allows clients to be gently immersed in computer-generated airport and airplane environments to treat various aspects of their flying-related fears.

Dr. Mitchell Schare
Dr. Mitchell Schare

Dr. Mitchell Schare, professor of psychology and director of the clinic, explains that aviophobia – or fear of flying – can impact quality of life. It keeps people from visiting loved ones for family celebrations or the holiday season, from going on vacation or taking business trips. It can have negative consequences for one’s personal life and professional reputation. “People experiencing this phobia may avoid flying altogether, or they may experience flying with extreme dread. To deal with it they might drink to excess, take pills, or ‘white knuckle’ it throughout a plane flight,” he says.

Some people who suffer from aviophobia have traveled by plane and had a negative experience. There are others who have never been on a plane and have developed their fear from stories told in the media or by friends and family. These are often sensationalistic accounts of flying-related troubles and airplane crashes. While most aviophobics know that these kinds of events are extremely unlikely, they cannot overcome their fear.

The Phobia and Trauma Clinic’s treatment for aviophobia is accomplished by the use of exposure therapies. Under safe, controlled clinic conditions, patients are immersed in the flying-related situations that they have long avoided. Depending upon the case, therapists simulate environments that trigger a phobic response so patients can learn to better manage their fears. Three kinds of exposure therapies are available at the Clinic:

  • Imaginal exposure: Therapist-guided mental imagery involving any aspects of flying related fears
  • Virtual reality exposure: Computer-generated airport and airplane environments
  • In-vivo exposure: Confronting flying related fear in actual airport settings

Once clients have gotten used to these simulated environments, they “graduate” from the program by taking an actual flight. Purchase of a plane ticket occurs at the beginning of the flying program and is required for program participation.

Although the flying program is individually-oriented, for many people, treatment takes 6-12 sessions. Sessions typically occur for one hour per week. However, research suggests that double sessions (about two hours) are very effective in helping people fly. Fees are set at the time therapy is initiated. The Saltzman Center fees are considerably less than one would pay for private practitioners providing this highly specialized treatment.

Studies are often conducted in the clinic using known and reliable methods of treatment. Participants who qualify for these studies may have their treatment fees waived, except for the airfare purchase. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call (516) 463-7232 or visit hofstra.edu/phobia.

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