Coping with Anxiety vi: Phobias and phobic responses (Cont’d)

Moving on from last week’s blog, I want to develop its subject matter a little further. Witness the account, which I am about to provide, concerning the wife of a patient once well known to me. When, together, they first came to my clinic, they expressed a wish to attend our clinical sessions together. However, after a while, only the husband, i.e. the patient, would come into my room, leaving his wife in the waiting area, ostensibly reading a book or magazine. At first I thought nothing of it, until, that is, one day my secretary commented that my patient’s wife was increasingly giving the appearance of being somewhat “Out of sorts; and seemingly, “Quite low in her spirits”. Knowing, as I did, that both knew me well enough to ask for help should they feel the need, I decided to await further developments. Then a few weeks later whilst attending the clinic, my patient – albeit rather tentatively – raised the matter of his wife’s present unhappy and (apparently) irritable state, adding that she had developed a problem, which he thought she should talk to me about. I agreed to see her, should she feel so inclined to adopt that course and suggested that he might convey this information to her at some appropriate moment. Thereafter it would be up to my patient’s wife to take the initiative and arrange an appointment with my secretary.
A few days later she was in my room, this time on her own, relating her story to me. Seemingly, it had all begun (so she was inclined to think) with Tommy, their pet budgerigar. Several weeks earlier, she had begun to develop what she described as an inexplicable and growing revulsion for the little creature. Not only that – and whereas previously she had always welcomed and put out seed etc. for wild birds around the garden – she now began to experience a similar overpowering need to avoid them also. Furthermore, similar feelings of revulsion and terror were now extending to the family’s Cairn terrier bitch and whereas their daughter had already provided the budgerigar with temporary shelter at her house, she (the daughter) had a cat and – well at that, she just ‘dissolved’ into tears. Whatever the cause, it was patently clear that this poor lady had developed a good-going “feather phobia”, which was now extending to the hairy coat of their pet cairn terrier: (remember what we said about “stimulus generalization” or ‘…similarity’ in an earlier blog?) the lady’s history of fairly recent events yielded nothing of much help or relevance. Apparently she was now sleeping only fitfully and the overall quality of her life had quite simply ‘nose-dived’. She felt “unhappy, depressed and totally inadequate”; and – as she also expressed it – “very guilty”, because, so she believed, she was now failing her husband at a time when he needed her most.

Among other approaches, we tried a simple relaxation training formula, using an appropriate audiocassette tape at home, which I made up for her; the point being to attempt to improve the quality of daytime wellbeing, as well as the duration and quality of night sleep. (I hope to deal with self application of simple relaxation strategies in blogs yet to be written). In the event and after a couple of weeks, she returned it, stating that it just wasn’t working for her. At that point (and in an attempt to improve things and gently stimulate further interest and confidence in the relaxation tape approach) I asked her whether she would like me to take her through the simple procedure outlined on the tape, in my clinic room and to this she agreed. (Continued and concluded in the second part of this blog, following immediately).

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