Experts, travelers say fear of flying is treatable

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    Earlier this month, NBA rookie Royce White disclosed that he is afraid to fly and said he expects to travel by bus to play in at least some of the basketball games for his team, the Houston Rockets.

    But psychologists who treat fear of flying and travelers who've overcome it hope he'll ditch the bus and get help instead.

    "The treatments we have for this are so effective for fear of flying that upwards of 80 per cent and sometimes even more people who get the treatment can fly," said psychologist Todd Farchione, of Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, echoing statistics offered by other experts.

    Farchione says fear of flying treatment consists of a "fairly standard" combination of cognitive and behavioral therapy. That includes identifying the patient's "fear-provoking thoughts" and challenging them, then getting the patient to "gradually confront" the fear, by imagining flying and then doing it. Some programs use flight simulators or virtual reality programs; others put patients on airplanes on the ground and in the air, accompanied by counselors.

    Either way, "the core of treatment is exposure" to the sensations of flying, said psychologist John Hart, who treats fear of flying at the Menninger Clinic in Houston, where patients can use a flight simulator that "has noise and shakes your chair".

    "It's like the cockpit of a plane, with video screens that look like windows and show the ground and various airports," Hart says. "It vibrates, bounces, takes off and lands and has different kinds of weather."

    Lisa Fabrega, a detox and lifestyle coach who lives in North Bergen, N.J., was cured by a Freedom to Fly workshop at White Plains Hospital's Anxiety & Phobia Treatment Center in White Plains, N.Y. The program included sitting in a plane on the ground at a small airport and meeting a retired American Airlines captain.

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