How the Zoological Society of London Helps People Overcome Arachnophobia

iStock / iStock

Fear of spiders is one of the most common phobias, affecting around a million people in the UK alone. But while most of us just find the eight-legged insects a little unsettling, for some, the phobia can be debilitating. That’s why the Zoological Society of London has created a program to help people overcome their arachnophobia.

Called the Friendly Spider Program, the four-hour class combines cognitive behavioral therapy, group hypnosis, and playtime with actual spiders, and is designed specifically for people with intense arachnophobia. Above all, the program aims to rehabilitate the image of the spider, teaching people that the vast majority of arachnids are not only harmless to humans, but beneficial for the environment.

Dave Clarke, who helps run the program and is the London Zoo’s Head of Invertebrate Conservation, knows they’re fighting a bit of an uphill battle. Arachnophobia is widespread and contagious: People tend to inherit it from close friends and family members when they’re young. Plus, spiders have a major PR problem—most books and movies don't exactly portray them in a positive light. For every Charlotte’s Web there’s a terrifying tarantula, venomous Shelob, or arachnid infestation to further fuel people’s fears.

That’s why Clarke, who once suffered from mild arachnophobia himself, wants to teach people about the positive qualities of spiders. He believes that by understanding the roots of their terror and coming face-to-face with harmless—and often surprisingly cute—spiders, people will realize there’s nothing to be afraid of.

According to Atlas Obscura, the program has a pretty impressive track record. It’s been operating for the last two decades, and by the end of each program, the vast majority of people have overcome their fear enough to hold a spider. Though the program doesn’t guarantee success, their website notes that “80% of participants report that they now remain calm, confident and relaxed when they encounter a spider.”

“Spiders are quite cuddly, too, once you get to know them,” Clarke explained to Atlas Obscura. “We should be shouting from the rooftops how fantastic it is to have spiders around.”

[h/t: Atlas Obscura]