August 7, 2006 3:09 PM   Subscribe

My wife is afraid of spiders. We just moved to Portland, Oregon, where the spider population seems to be higher than that even of slackers. I would like to not have to go on spider patrol every night, and I'd like my toddler daughter to not grow up with an irrational fear as well. Is there a way to cure her fear of spiders?
posted by sholdens12 to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The spiders in Portland are mostly harmless. I lived there 10 years and never saw a Brown Recluse.

She should try texas on for size if she wants spiders. I've seen like 10 black widows at my GF's place, and a whole handfull of scorpions.
posted by SpecialK at 3:12 PM on August 7, 2006

Honestly, the only way to cure a phobia is exposure. If you refuse to kill spiders, she'll either have to live with them or do it herself. If that goes on long enough, she'll get over it, though she might hate you for a while.
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:12 PM on August 7, 2006

Ask her what she despises worse--the spiders, or being overrun with flies (and subsequently maggots), gnats, disease-ridden mosquitos and the like. That's helped a few people I know come to terms with sharing space with our eight-legged friends.

And yes, Texas is a horrible place for the arachnophobic. I'm outside of Dallas, and every couple of weeks I've got to go squich a black widow or five (though all other spiders get tossed in the garden).
posted by internet!Hannah at 3:18 PM on August 7, 2006

There are now effective treatments that will cure most phobias. Talk to a psychologist who specializes in such things. Exposure is part of the answer, but it's a graduated exposure. I recall one patient who had to begin with getting used to the *word* "spider," then gradually move through picturing a spider, seeing a picture of a spider, etc. Rational exercises are not of much use: a person can rationally know that flying in a commercial airliner is safe and still have a severe phobia about it. If you do a Google search on "phobia cure" you'll find a variety of sources, not all of them reliable.
posted by LeisureGuy at 3:22 PM on August 7, 2006

Lots of good info in Wikipedia's Phobia entry.
posted by LeisureGuy at 3:25 PM on August 7, 2006

David Burns' The Feeling Good Handbook has a chapter on using cognitive-behavioral therapy to cure phobias.
posted by ottereroticist at 3:35 PM on August 7, 2006

I dislike being around spiders quite a bit, but can manage for myself if I have too. I've always thought that spiders were good (they eat the icky bugs), so I trap and release outside. If your wife can bring herself to do it being able to control the spiders like that could help her fear. Perhaps starting out with her having a small glass that she can trap any with and you carrying it outside, and doing it all for herself once she's gotten used to it. (What does she do now when you're not around?)
posted by Margalo Epps at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2006

Keep in mind that if you try to cure a phobia with exposure without knowing what you are doing you are likely to make it worse rather than better.

My mother is a psychiatrist and she suggested if you are having a panic attack you can sing a song. I don't know the exact mechanics of it but singing suppresses the part of your brain that is panicking.
posted by metaname at 3:39 PM on August 7, 2006

Yeah, I would think the cure would best be done by a practiced professional who has knowledge and experience...
posted by LeisureGuy at 3:42 PM on August 7, 2006

She has to want to control her fear of spiders. Is this as important to her as it is to you?

I have lessened my wasp/yellowjacket/bee phobia and tempered the cockroach shudders through massive overeducation -- looking at lots of picture and reading up on all varieties. This way, my first reaction is "that's a such and such," and my second reaction is eauurggeww! (Alternately, eerppt!)

But it's rather unpleasant work, looking at and thinking about something that makes you feel bad, which is why I asked if she really interested in getting over the phobia, or just would rather you kill the spiders.

In the meantime, make "taking care of the spider for mommy" something your daughter helps with. She won't wind up with a phobia, because you'll get her that nice safe exposure early on.
posted by desuetude at 3:54 PM on August 7, 2006

The spiders in Portland are mostly harmless. I lived there 10 years and never saw a Brown Recluse.

Unfortunately, it's not the Brown Recluse you have to worry about in the Pacific Northwest. It's it's similarly-cetotoxified friend, the Hobo Spider. Kill on sight. And, obviously, don't mention it to her.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:15 PM on August 7, 2006

Make that, it's its, or rather, it is its.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:16 PM on August 7, 2006

Empowerment through armament: get a good powerful vacuum-cleaner with a clear canister and a long handled extension. There's devices out there specifically for vacuuming bugs but I like using my Dyson to suck those little err, buggers up. Then I look at their mangled remains through the clear walls of the canister and laugh maniacally, "Broke into the wrong damn dining room, didn'cha!".

It worked for me, maybe it will work for her, too.

If you want to be a little more environmentally sensitive, the Backyard Safari brand of bug vacuum has a removable airlock which allows the user to return the live bug outdoors. My young son likes his a lot.
posted by jamaro at 5:23 PM on August 7, 2006

Our house in the woods is something like a spider hotel. We have learned to live with them being in the higher places, like windows shelves etc. But in order to keep them away from the baby and our beds, we have used an UltraSonic pest device. You can buy these at Home Despot and they really do seem to work. I suggest getting the smaller variety because they are much harder for humans to hear. They also seem to have kept the field mice out of the house as well! Bonus.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 5:27 PM on August 7, 2006

Purchase and read Charlotte's Web together (preferably with illustrations by Garth Williams). Repeat as needed.
posted by rob511 at 5:36 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the only way to cure a phobia is exposure.

Completely untrue. Find a local NLP practioner and have the phobia wiped out in 10 minutes. Permanently and completely, no BS. Hell, my brother (a Master Practioner) can even do it over the phone.

I've seen it done many times.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:38 PM on August 7, 2006

You could try the

V/K dissociation pattern

or just find a practitioner as mentioned above. Although as far as I'm concerned half the fun is figuring out how and why it works (or doesn't).
posted by jefeweiss at 6:34 PM on August 7, 2006

I found this spider myths site very helpful. Other than that: I was spider-phobic most of my life, but when I started really getting into gardening, I found myself exposed to so many spiders that I started to feel more comfortable around them. And I always wear gloves when working in the yard, which gives me a kind of sense of invulnerability and so also helped with the fear.

I still don't like them in the house, though. I have to chuckle a bit at people who kindly and gently take them outdoors, because house spiders will die outside. Which, frankly, is fine with me. Me, I just squish them and spare them the torment.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:34 PM on August 7, 2006

When I worked as a zookeeper at an insect zoo, we had a rose-haired tarantula that people could hold. I saw so many people who were freaking out beforehand be able to hold the spider (who was usually about 3-6 inches across) and leave curious. Most spiders aren't dangerous, and I think this helped them realize that. YMMV and you may not be able to find something like this in your area...
posted by artifarce at 6:37 PM on August 7, 2006

Best answer: Take her web watching to one of the local forested parks in the early fall. The Japanese Gardens are always nice during that time of year. The orb weaver spiders come out in force and weave some of the largest and most beautiful webs you will ever see. The spiders themselves are gorgeous and completely docile.

Take a camera along. Somehow, looking through a lens tends to distance people from the subject, while still allowing them to enjoy the beauty of the scene.
posted by fatbobsmith at 6:37 PM on August 7, 2006

I agree with desuetude that you wife has to want to get over her fear. She has to cooperate with anything you try with her. Just posting photos of spiders or showing her spiders in jars won't help her at all if she doesn't want to participate.

I'm terrified of spiders, and I can honestly tell you that if my fiance told me one day, "I'm sick of killing spiders and I don't want you to warp our daughter - time to get over it," I would not take it well. I would also stop being the resident millipede assassin since they bother him so much. Ask her what would help her get over her fear.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:38 PM on August 7, 2006

for what it's worth, i believe if you kill a spider indoors it will rain... that's what my mum told me anyways. Additionally:

-If you see a spider on Halloween, it could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you
-A spider with syrup cures fever.
-Seeing a spider run down a web in the afternoon means you'll take a trip.
-A spider is a repellent against plague when worn around the neck in a walnut shell.
-Killing a spider - very bad luck
-Finding a spider in the morning - Sorrow
-Finding a spider at midday - Anxiety
-Finding a spider in the evening - Loss
-Killing a spider - Bad Luck
-A spider spinning in the morning - Good Luck
-A spider climbing its thread - Good News
-A spider dropping on its thread - Good Luck
-Finding a spider on your body - Good Fortune
-Seeing a spider cross a wall - Good Luck
-A spider on your clothes – Money
posted by indiebass at 8:13 PM on August 7, 2006

I have been really phobic in the past and seem to be doing better now. There are lots of spiders around my current residence, and they're all wimpy harmless types. So I've got a good combination of exposure with minimal scaryness. A couple of things have helped. First: pick one that you see each day, perhaps outdoors, and give it a name. Cheer it on when its web is looking good and feel pity for it when it's thin and pale and its web is ratty and torn. Second, pick a really small, really unthreatening spider and help it out of your house gently. Put it down where it can get away and go live and thrive. Third, try checking out some webs in the woods. For some reason I don't find spiders scary when I'm actually out in their habitat. It's when they get into mine that I have a problem.
posted by scarabic at 10:14 PM on August 7, 2006

I would like to not have to go on spider patrol every night

Are you saying you have to get up and make sure there are no spiders in the bedroom before she'll go in, or something like that? Or just that you are the one designated to deal with spiders when they crop up? If it's the latter, be patient. If it's the former, then you're enabling.
posted by scarabic at 10:16 PM on August 7, 2006

posted by flabdablet at 12:10 AM on August 8, 2006

Best answer: I was borderline phobic with spiders and decided I could not be any more, mostly so that my daughter wouldn't grow up to be afraid of them. Intellectually, I knew that they wouldn't hurt me but there would be this moment of abject panic and I would become frozen with fear. My success in overcoming this problem came when I could analyze THAT EXACT MOMENT when the fear response would kick in and stop it from progressing. I'll still shudder a little when I see a particularly healthy specimen in the house but no problems with the usual encounters. The secret is to not allow yourself to progess with the fear response, stop it in its tracks. But, as other people have noted, the phobic person has to want to change their behaviour, you can't make them change.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:27 AM on August 8, 2006

I can't help you with your wife's phobia, but I can tell you how I grew up having no fear at all of spiders:

First off, Charlotte's Web, of course. And second, my parents never showed me any fear of spiders, and in fact encouraged me to examine the beauty of their webs. I remember spending fascinated hours watching a Daddy Long Legs tooling around. I was always told they were useful homey creatures who eat mosquitoes and flies. Whenever we found one in the house, it was a big production - and my help was enlisted - to capture the spider and get her safely outside.
Same with beetles and ladybugs and such. Roaches, of course, must be squished with extreme prejudice.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:17 AM on August 8, 2006

Does she really have a phobia? It sounds like a "normal" fear of spiders to me, so these suggestions about phobia reduction seem a bit extreme to me.

I hate spiders and bugs and I don't want to be around them - it does not mean I have a phobia that I need to be densensitized to.

What is her reaction specifically when she sees a spider? Is she able to kill them herself or does she cower in the corner or leave the house?
posted by agregoli at 7:30 AM on August 8, 2006

You can pick up jumping spiders without fear of them biting you. Their big eyes are cute, and they don't have long scary legs, and you can make them jump off your hand. In other words, they're lots of fun for kids to play with! You can find them walking on the side of your house on a sunny day, and you can confirm that they're jumping spiders if they leap away when you put your finger next to them.

My son has grown up playing with them, and now he is pretty fearless about killing spiders or any other bug in the house if he needs to.
posted by Araucaria at 10:31 AM on August 8, 2006

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