Along Came a Spider: How a Local Miss Muffet Strove to Conquer Her Fear of Spiders Through Hypnosis by Donra Naseri, Westchester Magazine (July 2008)

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Conquer Her Fear of Spiders Through Hypnosis

by Donra Naseri, Westchester Magazine (July 2008)

“You’ve got hypnosis eyes,” declared Bob Pargament as I slowly pulled the reclining chair back into sitting position.

I walked sluggishly to the nearest mirror- and squinted. Yes, my eyes were pinkish; after all, I’d spent the past hour with my eyelids shut; not sleeping, but in a state of guided relaxation (hypnotized) in an attempt to rid myself of my biggest phobia: spiders. See, the mere sight of the eight-legged critters cripples me with panic. Can you really blame me? They’re always waving their creepy, needle-like arms and lurking evilly in dark, isolated nooks and crannies.

Not that spiders interfere with my regular daily routine. At most, my fear has kept me away from garages (prime spider real estate), woodsy areas at night, horror flicks with arachnid-like monsters, and the dust bunny-inhabited corners of rooms that beg to see the bristled end of a broom (but it was a perfectly valid excuse for delaying my cleaning chores, Mom, I swear!).

Still, when someone suggested hypnosis as a solution, I was eager to try it out. Tiger Woods uses it to visualize his A-game before golf matches, and Matt Damon swears he instantly kicked a 16-year smoking habit with its help, so why shouldn’t it work for me?

That’s when I met Pargament, a Harrison-based certified hypnotist, who for the past four years has helped his clients lose weight, speak in public, take tests calmly, quit smoking, etc. He estimates that 90 percent of his clients report success; some in just one session.

Pargament explained the process, noting that a discrepancy between the conscious mind (”where willpower is”) and subconscious mind (”the hard drive that stores everything without any critical or logical analysis”) prevents people from overcoming phobias and bad habits. “Hypnosis reconciles them,” he said.

He began by asking me a little about myself, and whether a past experience had triggered my fear (none came to mind). Next came EFT (the emotional freedom technique), which comprised acupressure tapping on my face, collarbone, and hand and repeating the phrase, “Even though I have a fear of spiders, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

In each of the six hypnosis sessions, Pargament’s mellow bass voice guided me through a gradual and complete relaxation. He’d instruct me to breathe slowly and deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth. This usually was followed by counting, repetitions, and guided visualizations of descending stairs and elevators, until I’d sunk somewhere in between the waking and sleeping worlds. Pargament would periodically lift my arm to check if I was relaxed. Limp as a rubber band.

I can’t remember much of what was said in most sessions. What I do recall are Pargament’s vivid descriptions of a sobbing cartoon spider, wearing a bandana, sunglasses, and boots; an alien-esque spider being ignored and misunderstood by the uncaring human species; and all the reasons why we should marvel at spiders-for example, their inherent ability to build intricate webs.

To my horror, Pargament had one or two spiders waiting in Ziploc bags after each appointment. The instant I saw them, I was paralyzed with fear-and wanted out. With more sessions, my sense of panic eased somewhat; I didn’t automatically want to dive for the nearest doorway. I was even able to hold the Ziploc bag at one point.

Still, it was a controlled environment. How would I fare in a real-world situation?

My opportunity to find out arrived like an ill-fated reenactment of Frank Marshall’s Arachnophobia. I was mid-shower one morning, when a thin, gossamer strand caught the sunlight and gleamed brightly. Curious, I let my eyes follow the thread down from the ceiling, until I was eye-to-eye with a blurry black blob, inches from my nose.

I bugged out. Shampoo in hair, I darted out of the shower, a watery trail of shame behind me. I’d failed. And yet…

Days later, my brother, home from college, noted the stark difference in how-on two different occasions-I calmly asked him to please remove one of the creepy-crawly intruders from my room.

So, the verdict? It’s a hung jury. While I do find myself slightly less terror-stricken around spiders, I don’t want to cuddle with one anytime soon. And nowadays, instead of screaming Macaulay Culkin-style, I can casually find someone to remove the gross, horrid, sneaky little buggers from a safe distance.