Your heart rate increases. You feel dizzy. There’s a sudden pain in your chest and a slight choking sensation in your throat.
You feel as if you are on the very edge of losing control completely. You want to run. Because there’s a spider on your desk.
It doesn’t matter that it’s a small spider. Or that it’s not a poisonous spider. You have arachnophobia and the eight-legged little monsters are everywhere!
While it seems completely inconceivable at moments of panic like these, there is a cure for the fear of spiders, and video conferencing has a role to play.
The overwhelming fear of spiders is possibly the most common phobia in the world. And a phobia is far more profound than a fear.
Fear is the natural distress you feel when in the midst of a genuine threat to your wellbeing. But a phobia is the onset of severe anxiety, manifest in many of the symptoms described earlier, at the mere sight of even the most insignificant of threats. To a sufferer from arachnophobia, even the sight of a spider’s web may be enough to plunge them into crisis.
However, there is an acknowledged cure. Systematic desensitization combines relaxation techniques with a gradually increased exposure to the fear stimulant–in this case spiders–to eventually remove altogether the irrational phobic response.
In the modern world this is achieved by either guided or self-guided training.
In guided training, the sufferer works with a medical/psychological expert who monitors their gradual progress from encountering the least threatening spider the patient can imagine–and often the starting point is just imagining the encounter–all the way to letting a spider actually walk across their bare skin. At each step of the journey the professional is able to step in and end the experience if it becomes too demanding.
The self-guided method operates on the same theory, but leaves the sufferer to their own devices. In the internet age it utilizes smartphone apps such as Phobia Free that use game-based techniques to move the fearful from guiding a cute cartoon spider across a floor to placing a real one on their hand through augmented reality.
Exposure Therapy via Video Conferencing
As each approach to systematic desensitization has its merits, there’s actually no need to choose between them. Video conferencing lets sufferers embrace the mentorship of a health professional while also using the taking advantages of the possibilities that the internet offers.
During an initial face-to-face video chat introduction the psychiatrist or psychologist can guide their patient through the relaxation techniques, such as controlled breathing, that will underpin the anti-arachnophobia treatment.
Video conferencing can recreate the person-to-person dynamic of the clinical setting as easily as it does the more common boardroom application, with the added bonus that the patient need not leave the comfort and safety of their own home. Also, the remote connection means sufferers can seek out treatment from experts located a world away from where they live.
So, moving on in the treatment, the sufferer can be encouraged to progress through first visualizing spiders in their mind’s eye, before eventually being presented with images and videos of the real thing through the shared screen technology that is near omnipresent among video conferencing services.
If a middle ground is needed between the real and the imagined, patient and professional could use virtual reality video conferencing to slow the process a little.
While the audio in a virtual world is the same real-time back-and-forth of any video chat, the visuals are provided by computer avatars and allow the patient to be guided through games that can expose them to the idea of spiders while keeping them physically removed from the eight-legged creatures.
Video Conferencing as Cure
In time, the spider-averse are going to want to plant a flag in their former fear and reach the ultimate goal of letting one of these arachnids share their personal space.
The aforementioned augmented reality video conferencing is a great penultimate step, as it lets the user see a spider seemingly crawl over their hand, without one actually being present. The technology works by layering digital content over live-action video stream to merge the real and the perceived. Complete interactivity can be achieved with the aid of 3D enabled cameras, so the participant can still flick away the digital spider should they not be ready to witness it touching them. With the use of immersive virtual headsets the experience can become very real, even if the mind can retain the right to recall the necessary suspension of disbelief.
Ultimately one of those little furry feet is going to have to get a toehold on the sufferer’s skin to truly free them of their fear. It’s true that there’s no way to recreate that experience remotely, but using a video conferencing connection means the reassuring, professional face that has presided over the treatment thus far can still be on hand when the spider gets, well, on hand.