Fear of flying and gender differences, women are afraid to crash - men fear lack of control

2.5 million Dutch suffer from fear of flying. Psychologist and pilot Lucas van Gerwen took his doctoral degree at the University of Leiden in June.

One of his conclusions is that in fear of flying, men have other underlying complaints than women. He also makes a comparison of the existing treatment methods worldwide. Another investigation was to find out what treatment method is most successful. Fear of flying is a well treatable psychological complaint.

What is fear of flying?

Van Gerwen examined how facilities worldwide are dealing with fear of flying, found that the treatment methods were very diverse. The VALK foundation developed a fixed treatment protocol. Moreover, Van Gerwen discovered that people who are afraid to fly often have one or more underlying phobic complaints. For example, a fearful flyer can suffer from fear of heights and be afraid to hand over the control at the same time. Van Gerwen also found that not every fearful flyer is afraid of the same things. Between men and women are remarkable differences. Women are more often afraid to crash and suffer more often from claustrophobia. They are also afraid that they can’t keep themselves under control and that they will start screaming. However men are more often afraid because they cannot control the airplane and/or because they are afraid of heights. The male as well as the female types of fear of flying are well treatable.

Therapy against fear of flying works Van Gerwens investigation shows that an effective treatment against fear of flying is based on the following four treatment elements, named in order of effectivity:

  1. Exposure: gradual expose to flying, first in a flight simulator and ultimately in a real, accompanied flight.
  2. Relaxation-training with breathing exercises.
  3. Information about aviation.
  4. Learning to keep control over irrational and distressing thoughts.

Although the accompanied flight has proved to be most effective, this is not the first component in the therapy offered, for ethical reasons.

The therapy developed by the VALK Foundation, exists of different parts. Firstly it is determined what the individual fear of flying client is exactly afraid of. Secondly, an individual therapy is offered to learn to handle these complaints and thirdly the client takes part in a group training. After treatment, the VALK Foundation offers relapse prevention. In the therapy the clients develop enough self-confidence to remain in control over their fears.

Van Gerwen: “medical assurances should offer to pay expenses for a fear of flying treatment”

Lastly Van Gerwen shows that people benefit also from a short (one day) training as well as a more intensive (two days) training, but that the intensive training gives a better and broader result on the long term. This contrasts with the starting points of the insurers, who mostly choose for the shortest treatment. Van Gerwen: the medical assurances can improve the quality of life of 2.5 million Dutch people by taking the fear of flying treatment in their package.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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