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If you are a phobic between the ages of 18 and 55, the Harvard Center for Research in Personality would like to cure you. Under the direction of Bruce L. Baker, assistant professor of Clinical Psychology in Social Relations, the Center will continue last year's free clinic for treating and curing cases of acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces), and fear of speaking in public.
There are many types of phobia. According to Dr. Baker, these particular three were chosen because they have been eliminated by clinical treatment in the past. So far, 70 people have signed up for therapy in public speaking. The respondents for claustrophobia and acrophobia have been fewer, and these programs may be temporarily deferred. Treatment for the phobia consists of twice-weekly sessions which last for two months.
According to David Cohen, a graduate student in Social Relations working with the clinic, it is not organized in he "hospital-institutional" sense. "Our people are researchers, not practising doctors." Most of the subjects derive real benefits from the project. About 80 per cent of the participants in the program are cured of their phobias.
Cohen said that a phobia is not simply a fear. "Someone who is nervous about addressing 10,000 people in the Boston Garden is not necessarily a phobic. But the guy who cuts his seminar because he is afraid that he will be called upon to speak has a crippling disability."
Most of the respondents have reasonably serious phobias. "They know as well as we do what the problem is. It's not some general neurosis, but a narrowly specific fear. Our approach," he said, "will be behavior therapy, not psychotherapy. In other words we don't put people on a couch and bring in a bearded German doctor with a notebook."
The sessions are supposed to be pain less. There is nothing to fear but fear itself (i.e., phobophobia).
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