The Friendly Spider Programme

London F51

On the 17th of May psychology students visited the friendly spider programme at London Zoo. Established in 1993, the programme conducts on average 8 sessions a year and to date has treated 5,000 people ranging from 7 to 82 years of age. Students therefore had the opportunity to see a practical application of psychological therapies, covered in the A level course.

The day started with students exploring the reptile and insects enclosures at the zoo, followed by a discussion as to why phobias of bugs and insects are common while phobias of more dangerous animals such as tigers or everyday objects such as guns are rare. 

The first session with clinical hypnotherapist of many years’ experience John Clifford started at 11.30. The introductory talk of approximately 30 minutes covered the background to phobias in general, that is how they develop and the restrictions they place on sufferer’s lives. Case studies demonstrate that phobias, in particular arachnophobia, can be life altering, with everyday areas such as garden sheds out of bounds for many sufferers. Many others have to go through elaborate checking routines before entering a room.

Following a short break for lunch, the afternoon session was very much hands on, with students taking part in a group hypnosis induction session, in which they visualised a balloon in one hand and several heavy books in the other; they then visualised an interaction with spiders. Following this came the main event when students had the opportunity to hold a Mexican tarantula in their hands. Several students were willing, although some had not reached the relaxation threshold for this level of interaction. However all felt the day was enjoyable and informative.

Andrew Moore