Fear of Spiders? The London Zoo Wants to Help

Tegenaria domestica
Tegenaria domestica is known as the domestic house spider or barn funnel weaver. (Photo: Nikk [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

When it comes to spiders, people generally fall into one of two categories: indifferent, or "OMG GET IT AWAY FROM ME" afraid. We get it. Spiders, while fascinating, carry an aura of fear that some outgrow but others are haunted by for the rest of their lives. For certain people, arachnophobia can lead to a crippling, anxiety-filled existence in which the great outdoors are shunned and innocent eight-legged visitors discovered in the household are immediately squashed.

But what if you could be convinced to respect and co-exist with spiders instead of feeling threatened by their presence? That's the idea behind the Zoological Society of London's Friendly Spider Programme, designed to help people cope with their fears. The four-hour session is hosted by the London Zoo’s head of invertebrate conservation, Dave Clarke, and features a discussion on phobias, a detailed history and education on spiders, and even a group hypnotherapy session.

Led by hypnotherapist John Clifford, the hypnosis is designed to "remove any remaining negative subconscious feelings about the animals and support the newly-acquired positive feelings."

After all of the above is concluded, the participants are invited to take the optional step of visiting the Zoo's BUGS! building. In a calm and supportive environment, they can practice catching common household spiders and/or cuddle with a big furry Mexican red-kneed spider.

“Spiders are quite cuddly, too, once you get to know them,” Clarke told Atlas Obscura. “We should be shouting from the rooftops how fantastic it is to have spiders around.”

While you might think those with arachnophobia would avoid such programs, the truth is that since 1993, the Friendly Spider Programme has helped more than 3,000 people ages 7 to 82.

"And although we cannot guarantee success for everyone, follow-up analysis shows that more than 80 percent of participants report that they now remain calm, confident and relaxed when they encounter a spider," the site states.

As for the participants themselves, glowing reviews exist all over social media:

Want to give the Friendly Spider Programme a shot? The sessions for 2015 are all sold out, but the Zoological Society of London is taking reservations for seven sessions scheduled for 2016.