© Shane Wilson Link | Shutterstock
Can you imagine yourself holding this tarantula?
Getting up close and personal with a furry tarantula is probably the very last thing someone with a spider phobia would opt for, but the encounter may be the ticket to busting the brain's resistance to arachnids.
A tried-and-true exposure therapy, this one lasting just hours, changed activity in the brain's fear regions just minutes after the session was complete, researchers found.
"Before treatment, some of these participants wouldn't walk on grass for fear of spiders
or would stay out of their home or dorm room for days if they thought a spider was present," said lead study author Katherina Hauner, postdoctoral fellow in neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a statement.
After a single therapy session lasting up to three hours, "they were able to walk right up and touch or hold a tarantula
. And they could still touch it after six months," Hauner said.
Spider phobia is a type of anxiety disorder called specific phobia, which also includes phobias of blood, needles, snakes, enclosed places and others. About 9.4 percent of the U.S. population has experienced a specific phobia at some point in their lifetime, Hauner said.
Hauner told LiveScience she hopes people who have specific phobias, particularly of spiders, will realize that successful treatments are out there, and that their phobias can take just hours to cure (though some cases can take a couple weeks to cure, she noted). "It's still not easy. It involves being motivated to overcome your fear."