Happy landing for flying phobics

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Fear of flying, one of the commonest phobias of modern life, can be cured in just six weeks, a social scientist says.

Fear of flying, one of the commonest phobias of modern life, can be cured in just six weeks, a social scientist says.

Public concern about flying has increased so much, with extensive coverage of crashes exacerbating people's worries, that almost a third of the population now has a fear of flying.

Research presented yesterday shows that one in five people depends on alcohol or a sedative before taking a flight. Many avoid flying altogether even if that means not taking a job that requires travelling or going abroad.

Researchers found that reluctant flyers can overcome their anxiety by having therapy with a virtual reality tool that simulates the sensation and body movements of going on an aeroplane. Participants experienced sitting on an aeroplane, taking off and landing, and flying in both calm and stormy weather in a virtual realitysimulator.

Nearly 50 participants from Washington DC, who had been diagnosed as having a flying phobia or panic attacks triggered by flying, took eight hours of treatment over six weeks. After each session the subjects' anxiety, willingness to fly and physical stress symptoms were measured.

Phobia symptoms such as sweating, dizziness, and heart palpitations were significantly reduced after the treatment. Six months later 93 per cent of those who took part had willingly taken a commercial flight without having panic attacks or suffering extreme anxiety.

Dr Samantha Smith, of the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and a co-author of the study, said the therapy was a cheap and effective way of enabling people to overcome a disabling condition that limited both their personal and professional lives. She said the treatment could cure people of their fear of flying and was moresuccessful than more conventional treatments involving relaxation techniques.

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