Hello? Hello? Are We Really Talking Over the Web?

Fear is a human emotion we all share. However, some fears are irrational – we don’t know why we are afraid. For example, at least one in eight Americans is afraid to fly in an airplane. Yet, more people are killed on U.S. highways every three months than have died in commercial airplane accidents in the past 60 years – worldwide. The most common “treatment” for pre-flight anxiety alcohol, which explains why airport bars open early. These days a number of job careers require at least some travel – and companies across the board prefer plane travel for most business trips. Telling your boss you would rather take the train probably would involve also taking away some vacation time, also!

Irrational fears come in several flavors. The three most common phobias (fears) are simple or common phobia, social phobia and agoraphobia. Simple or common phobia is an unreasonable fear of animals, insects, and natural elements like storms or water, heights and closed spaces. Even germs, odors or illnesses fall into this category. I have the fear of heights, especially standing near the edge even with a guardrail or half wall in front of me. (I had a great time walking around inside and outside the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica!) Social phobias, as you may have guessed, deals with fear of contact with crowds or intimate social situations. People with this phobia have no confidence with strangers because they fear they are being judged. Agoraphobia is generally defined as fear of open or crowded spaces.

Now as you read this, I’m sure you are amazed at how many of these fears you can identify with. Most people acknowledge they have fears that are out of control, unreasonable or unexplainable. Just because you realize it doesn’t make it go away. Phobias can grow to the point of becoming debilitating and interfere with their daily life.

Symptoms of common phobias include hyperventilation, sweating, feeling faint, fast heart beat, flashes, anxiety. In severe cases, these symptoms can occur when the person is thinking about, or standing close to the feared object. Social phobia symptoms include fear of saying something to embarrass yourself in front of other people. In severe cases some people take refuge in alcohol or others may just avoid the opposite sex for fear of embarrassment. Agoraphobia symptoms are panic attacks and fear of going anywhere or doing anything. Agoraphobics avoid going anywhere near their fear.

Other debilitating symptoms of phobias include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate, constant fatigue, lack of pleasure and feelings of worthlessness.

Now at this point I’m beginning to develop a fear that my readers are thinking, “Why is Br. John going on and on about phobias?” Because psychotherapists are using technology to treat phobias – virtual reality. In the past, a therapist has a person confront their fear and try to stop it. Meaning they are exposed to the feared object and taught to tolerate their anxieties and conquer their fears. As an example, let’s say you are afraid of birds. The therapist would first show you pictures of birds and then move on to touching bird feathers. Finally, the person would be taken to a park and taught to feed the birds. The same process can be done using virtual reality.

Like the process above, virtual reality is used instead to stimulate the situation you are phobic about. The psychotherapist operates the computer software while providing counseling. Each virtual reality session lasts about an hour with anywhere from 8 to 10 sessions. The patient sits next to a computer and puts on a headset that provides 3-D animation and sound of their phobia.

Technology makes phobia exposure faster and less costly. Instead of a therapist accompanying a patient to the airport, the airport comes to the office. This gives the therapist control over the virtual environment. First came video simulators, which in the case of fear of flying brought the experience under the controlled setting of a doctor’s office. Then a company called Virtually Better at virtuallybetter.com developed virtual reality therapy, which is now offered in a dozen states nationwide. Virtually Better has a virtual elevator, bridge, storm, audience, Vietnam environments, malls, streets and pleasant environments are available. “Other phobias, such as insects or needles, are easier for therapists to handle without the use of computers and motion chairs,” says Ken Graap, M.Ed., president and chief executive officer of the company.

In our flying example, patients now sit in airplane-style chairs and wear virtual-reality masks while therapists run tailor-made programs that reproduce the sights, sounds and motions of air travel. Mark Frazier, a clinical psychologist at Virtual Therapy Associates in Miami says this type of therapy is like an IMAX theater. He has found it to be very effective. Most of his patients overcome their phobia in about 8 sessions.

So if you find your phobias holding you back from doing things at work or at home your really want to do, you might consider virtual therapy. If you have health insurance that includes psychotherapy coverage, therapists say there's a good chance you'll be reimbursed for at least a portion of your treatment. So don’t be “afraid” to give it a try!

Now I usually have a theme for my Catholic website picks. However, this time I thought I would do some random surfing to be different using Google phrase searches.

In searching for “Catholic Movies Online” the OK-Knights at http://ok-knights.org popped up. The website is put up by the Oklahoma Knights of Columbus State Council. Under their “Music-Videos-Fun” category you can find Christian Music Mp3s, Christian Movies Online (they now host over 32 online videos), Flash Games, E-cards, a Cookbook and Fun in Numbers. They have a Catholic Fun, Christian Bible Fun and Children’s Fun categories.

In searching for “Catholic Fun” The Poor Clare Sisters in Spokane, Washington “Joy Notes: A Weekly Dose of Fun and Inspiration” at http://joynotes.org caught my attention. They also have put together a Year of the Eucharist webpage at http://yearoftheeucharist.com. I just happened to notice on this page Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC’s book “201 Inspirational Stories of the Eucharist” that Brother Mark here at the monastery contributed a story to.

In searching for “Catholic Trivia” I came across “Roman Catholicism Quizzes” put up by various people at funtrivia.com/quizzes/religion/christianity/roman_catholicism.html. For each quiz you can find out its difficulty, how many times played, when it was put online, and who the author is. And if you don’t like any of them, you can create your own free daily trivia tournament. There are currently 12 quizzes on the opening page and another 11 in subcategories.

In trying a “Catholic Musings” search I came upon St. Blog’s Parish. It managed to rank first on Christianity Blog Rings directory at http://ringsurf.com/Religion_/Christianity/ with 464 sites of Catholic bloggers. Other rings of possible interest include “Catholic Moms on the Internet,” “CIN Bloggers” “Eastern Catholic,” “Blessed Virgin Mary,” “Mary Coredemptrix” and “Perpetual Divine Mercy Crusade” blogs. If that’s not enough you can search for more Catholic blogs among the 250 remaining blog rings!

Well, that’s enough surfing for this month. I’ll leave other Catholic keyword phrase searches up to you!

Brother John Raymond welcomes
e-mail at john@aplusconsultingnow.com.

He is author of Catholics on the Internet: 2000-2001,
Webmaster of www.monkofadoration.org