How do you work with the phobia of flying in psychotherapy?

The phobia of flying is one of the most common specific phobias, but fortunately, it responds very well to psychological treatment.

In this article, we will see what the working process in psychotherapy with patients with a phobia of flying consists of, taking into account that the treatment is always personalized and varies depending on the needs of each person.

What is the phobia of flying?
The phobia of flying is a type of specific phobia, a category of psychopathologies that in turn is included in anxiety disorders . Therefore, it will be defined with the same criteria as these psychological disorders and similar treatments adapted to the specific type of phobia will be used.

The characteristic feature or criterion of any specific phobia is disproportionate fear or anxiety that appears before a stimulus, generating great discomfort and the need to avoid it. Thus, the phobia of flying will involve a very intense fear of the situation of flying that will affect the functionality of the patient, that is, it will negatively affect different areas of his life too often.

Cases of people suffering from this phobia detected?
The diagnosis of specific phobia can only be carried out by mental health professionals ; thus, before the work carried out in therapy, there is a phase of recognition of the symptoms and identification of the underlying psychopathology.

The following criterion highlights that fear, anxiety or avoidance causes discomfort and a dysfunction of the quality of life in important areas of daily life, such as social and work life.

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Finally, it is necessary that this pattern of appearance of fear, anxiety and avoidance last a minimum of 6 months.

Phobia of flying
It is also necessary to make a differential diagnosis and verify that anxiety is not better explained by another psychological disorder such as panic disorder, agoraphobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety or anxiety social, among others.

In this way, knowing the main characteristics that specific phobias must meet, it can be said that the phobia of flying meets the defining criteria of the phobia before a specific stimulus caused by the experience or expectation of flying in airplanes, helicopters, etc.

Among the types of specific phobia, the one that makes its symptoms emerge in the situation of flying in an aircraft is classified within the category of situational phobia; that is to say, anxiety and fear appear in specific situations, being this type of phobia the one that normally appears later in the age group that goes from 13 to 22 years.

What do you do about the phobia of flying in psychotherapy?
In order to treat specific phobias, different treatments of varying efficacy have been used, and specific and concrete interventions have also been designed to face and manage the symptoms of flying phobia.

The techniques that have been shown to be most useful and effective for any phobia are behavioral and cognitive ; In particular, it will be essential to carry out exercises of exposure to the phobic stimulus to be able to overcome and face the anxiety that it involves.

This implies, among other things, making the person “expose” to the phobic stimulus gradually and going from the easiest to the most difficult, resisting the urge to withdraw and avoid these kinds of experiences. To do this, you can work with imagination exercises (after training in the ability to imagine vividly), with virtual reality resources that offer simulations of the interior of an airplane, or using real aircraft.

1. Psychoeducation
In the first place, a psychoeducation phase is carried out, which aims to inform the patient about the nature of the disorder that he has developed , helping him to get rid of preconceptions and erroneous beliefs that could make it difficult to improve his quality of life.

The patient is explained what they consist of and how they affect phobias and anxiety, so that they better understand what happens to them, and they are also given information about airplanes and how they work, referring to their safety and the probability of that an accident occurs compared to other means of transport.

2. Intervention on cognitive processes
Another component used focuses on treating the possible cognitive alterations that may occur in the patient, that is, the irrational or untrue beliefs that the subject may present .

To this end, we will use the cognitive restructuring technique, which consists of identifying those irrational or negative beliefs related to airplanes and the act of getting on one that arise in the patient, and that generates great emotional discomfort and frustration.

This process consists of asking questions and presenting issues that allow confronting and changing these harmful ideas , leaving it to the patient himself who questions his beliefs once he has been presented with certain information or has been made to combine two or more concepts.

3. Training in relaxation techniques
Next, we proceed with the teaching of controlled breathing and / or relaxation techniques. This helps the subject to gain control of their breathing by relaxing the abdominal muscles, contracting the diaphragm, and relaxing the intercostal muscles.

Through the conscious control of certain processes linked to the physiological aspect of the individual, it helps him to let the state of anxiety disappear , since it is associated with a state of nervous and muscular hyper-activation.

4. Exposure exercises
As we have seen, in psychotherapy applied to cases of flying phobia, it is necessary for the person to learn to face their fear without constantly giving in “to what the body asks of them” before the appearance of the phobic stimulus, so they must give up avoid or flee from these experiences. To facilitate this process, exposure techniques used in psychotherapy have been developed, which are designed so that the patient does not become frustrated or increase his fear by failing time after time when trying to overcome anxiety .