What do spiders, heights and elevators have in common? All three can make some people sick to the stomach with fear.

Help is available though, through a new phobia project at The University of Queensland, Australia.

Researchers from UQ’s Behaviour Research and Therapy Centre are seeking people between the ages of 45 and 75 years with phobic anxiety to participate in a program designed to help them overcome their fears and get on with living their lives.

The 10-week program will teach participants valuable relaxation techniques which they can use everyday, followed by sessions of ‘exposure therapy’ in which they will gradually ‘approach’ their feared stimulus and overcome their fear.

According to principal researcher Dr Nancy Pachana, anxiety can negatively impact on many areas of people’s lives, including their health, their reported levels of pain, their independence and their ability to carry out tasks of daily living.

The potential benefits of successfully reducing anxiety are thus great and extend far beyond just reducing the distress associated with their anxiety.

Dr Pachana said psychology has made great strides forward in helping people overcome phobias through exposure, but there is still a question about the best way to go about this.

“We’re doing a series of studies to address this question and also look at whether there is a difference between more traditional exposure therapy protocols, and more accelerated ones which just focus on exposure. We’re also interested in whether there is a difference between older and middle-aged adults and how they respond to this treatment.”

This study is quite unique in that it offers treatment for people up to the age of 75, whereas most studies in this area have traditionally focused on people up to about 60.

“Investigating the outcomes of this treatment program will also help tailor interventions to different age groups more effectively and extend the benefits beyond individual participants,” Dr Pachana said.

Those interested in the program shouldn’t have any major medical or memory problems and their primary problem must be a specific phobia. As participants will be exposed to their phobias through the program, people with a fear of flying, blood, needles or social phobias aren’t well suited to this program.

Participants will be charged a small fee of $5 per session. Telephone (07) 3365 6358 to register your interest.

Media: For more information about the research, or to interview a program participant, contact Nancy Pachana (telephone (07) 3365 6832 or email [email protected]).