Scared Of Spiders? App Helps People Battle Arachnophobia

Psychiatry meets technology with this fun game.

May 1, 2014— -- Imagine conquering your fear of spiders, crowds, flying and more with a few swipes of a smartphone.

Psychiatrists are working to make that happen. The app Phobia Free helps people battle arachnophobia through “systematic desensitization,” a gradual method of exposing users to their fear, common in psychiatric treatment.

“You start off playing games with cartoon-like spiders and as you progress through the app, through the game, they get more and more real until you face an augmented reality tarantula,” co-founder Dr. Andrés Fonseca told

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Users will face nine different spiders during the “treatment” –- a series of games played in the app.

People can be cured of their fear of spiders in as little as four hours if they play consistently, but most people take a couple weeks to go through the digital program, Fonseca said.

“It’s been shown to work as well as live spiders,” added Fonseca, a psychiatrist who studies phobias and technology in London, and helps create health apps for Virtually-Free. “Traditional treatment used to use a real spider. You would get the person to come closer and closer and then touch it – it turns out technology is just as good.”

It’s also cheaper.

“Treatment for this phobia might cost you $200 or $300 if you do it with a therapist in one session,” he said. “The idea is to make it accessible to everyone, make it more affordable.”

The app costs $3.99 in Apple’s iTunes app store.

Now Fonseca and his colleagues are working on another app to help people conquer agoraphobia, fear of being in crowds or places where it’s hard to escape.

“That one can be very disabling because it can trap people at home – which of course makes it very difficult to treat, because they’re not going to come to the clinic!” Fonseca said.

“Agoraphobia is far trickier, we’ll see how it goes, but it will probably require longer treatment time.”

He expects the app to be ready by the end of the year.

Fonseca and his colleagues have another app, Stress Free, that helps users relax.

There are also smartphone apps that help people conquer their fear of flying and hypnosis apps that claim to be able to cure several phobias.