A new way to overcome your fears

A new way to overcome your fears

Facing your fears may be just what the doctor ordered.

In an attempt to facilitate overcoming phobias, researchers developed a computer program that quickly flashes images of patients’ worst fears before their eyes, known as Very Brief Exposure (VBE). Recently, they sought to determine how this VBE method affects brain activity.

Twenty-one women with arachnophobia—the fear of spiders—and 21  women without participated in the recent study. While their brain activity was measured via MRI, the women were exposed to three different images on the screen: clearly visible spider photos, images of spiders that flashed for .03 seconds and pictures of flowers as a control.

While the participants were unable to consciously recognize what was in the VBE image, the MRI proved that the prefrontal cortex, or the part of the brain in which our fear control response occurs, was processing the scene. The VBE images caused more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Upon seeing the identifiable pictures of the spiders, the brain activity in the prefrontal cortex was slowed. Instead, the participants’ subconscious was taking care of the fears without eliciting any fear.

Researchers determined the VBE does not cure phobias but rather allowed an individual to subconsciously process these images without actually getting scared and treats “a certain unconscious dimension of the fear that will make it easier for you to confront what you’re actually afraid of.”

“This treatment sounds like a great idea. It doesn’t appear to have any side effects, so even if it helps a little, it’s worth doing,” says Dr. Beth Ledvora, psychiatrist affiliated with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “I am hoping this will also be helpful in treating PTSD and social anxiety, since these conditions are often difficult to treat with medications and psychotherapy.”

Study authors do presume this treatment could also be applied to those sufferers of social phobia and PTSD.

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About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Health Care in Downers Grove. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks and playing with her dog, Bear and cats, Demi and Elle.