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Arachnophobia therapy at Bristol Zoo

This is my experience of the Living with Spiders education program at Bristol Zoo, an arachnophobia therapy program. Could they take a total arachnophobe like myself and turn me into a calm and rational human around the many, many, many 8 legged, hairy ones that share our space every day? Read on to find out!

To say I was afraid of spiders is like saying that there are a few different species of spider in the world.* My fear was so bad that it actually started to affect my life. I wouldn’t get wood in because so many live in the wood pile, I couldn’t rummage round in the bottom of the wardrobe, I’d struggle getting something from the shed, the garage unnerved me totally, and worst of all, if I saw a spider in the house, I would freeze. If you would like to read a hilarious, (and excruciatingly embarrassing!), account of a spider encounter in my younger years, you can read it here. *Cringe*

I’ll try and describe the reaction I’d have to seeing a spider. I’d usually spot it out of the corner of my eye, it’s a bit like having heightened senses, I was so aware of them, that if one scuttled past, even if it was quite far away, I’d spot it instantly. My heart would first miss a beat and then start pounding. If it was close, I’d be up out of my seat and on the chair or across the room in a heartbeat. I would then squeal or shriek for help. If my children were home, I’d try and keep a lid on it for their sake, as I was so desperate not to pass my phobia on, (I’m not sure I managed that, but hopefully, they won’t be crippled with it as I have.), but also be too terrified to actually do anything about it.

I felt like they were everywhere. I don’t think I could truly relax anywhere as I was on such a heightened state of alert without even realising. Being in the garden wasn’t something that appealed to me. I so wanted to join my husband and children on the grass but the grass is always full of spiders and I’d sit there for a while before I’d get the overwhelming urge to move inside, where it was ‘safe’ without even realising why, probably not even until I’m writing it down now actually.

I hated it. I’d been looking for a long time for an arachnophobia therapy treatment, namely at spider phobia courses in zoos, but we lived in Wales, miles form anywhere, then we moved closer to Bristol Zoo four years ago, and I’d keep checking their page to read about the course. The time was never right though, couldn’t leave the baby, and then they were quite sporadic in their running times and actually, a big part of me was glad!! The most irrational thought I had about the course was that I didn’t ever want to be not scared of them because then I would go near them. Sound silly, yes, I knew it too, I just couldn’t change it!!

So finally an arachnophobia therapy course came up, I contacted the zoo, they had a place, did I want it. Erm, yes, no, YES! The course isn’t cheap at £95 however, now I’ve done it, I cannot tell you how worth it I think it is!! They weren’t sure if they had enough people wanting to take part, they would let me know. I didn’t find out until the Thursday before the Tuesday that it was definitely going ahead. Gulp!

I was a nervous wreck beforehand. Seriously. The day of the course came, it started at 6pm in Bristol, so the second my husband got home from work, I jumped in the car and headed off, straight into traffic!! The usual 50 minute journey took far longer thanks to an accident on the M5. When I finally arrived, late and panicking about where I’d left my car, I was such a stressed out ball of anxiety that I felt sure no hypnosis would work on me. I’d also missed a significant chunk of the course.

I did however, arrive right on time for the hypnotherapy part. I made a massive effort to calm down and focus. I really thought it wouldn’t work as I was so tense, but I really de-stressed quickly with the soothing music and Greg Nejedly‘s (literally!), hypnotic tones. Afterwards, there was a break with refreshments, tea, coffee, sandwiches, crisps and fruit and a chance to chat and catch up on what I’d missed, which was mainly lots of info about phobias and how they form etc, a lot of which I knew as I’ve done a lot of research in my quest to combat it already, plus I did Psychology at school. They also explained how the arachnophobia therapy worked, using a combination of hypnotherapy and education.

Next up was an education section led by Dave Naish who is the king of all things bugs at the zoo. Although we’d all stated that we didn’t want to know more about the 8 legged hairy ones, (I think I’d even written on my form that I’d rather pretend they didn’t exist!), I found this fascinating. He really taught me a lot about spiders, their physical beings and also about their behaviour patterns, dispelling a lot of the myths that I’d heard and clung on to in my need to justify my ridiculous fear. I knew there would be spiders later, (there always are at these things aren’t there, why else would it be held at the zoo?!), and that was on my mind as we moved onto the next stage, more hypnosis.

I really felt as though I wasn’t managing to do it properly, I was struggling so much with the visualization and wasn’t ‘under’ I was fully conscious of everything in the room and my inability to see certain ‘pictures’ when asked. I did try and get really into it though, and I only had one point where I felt a little like I was losing control and drifting away, Greg was very reassuring though, and I let myself drift, I was still totally aware of everything around, where I was, what I was doing, the fact that I wasn’t able to see these certain images. With this in mind, I was very surprised when the hypnotherapy section finished and Dave came round, handing out some spider books and showing us some slides of spiders on the big screen, and…….I wasn’t petrified.

I was holding a book about these enormous spiders in my hand, and flicking through the pages and the usual reaction wasn’t happening. I wasn’t delighted with them and desperate to give one a cuddle or anything, but equally, I wasn’t screaming, flinging the book across the room and not being able to touch the page in case one ‘jumped out at me’. (Yes I know how silly that sounds!!) It was weird, I was amazed that I could feel like that.

Then we moved on to looking at some of the spider exo-skeletons  that the tarantulas at the zoo had grown out of, and also some other bug ‘shells’ too. I wasn’t particularly comfortable with these but then I’m not a massive fan of dead crispy stuff at the best of times! 😀 I did manage to touch and turn some bits over to look at though.

Finally, the bit you’ve all been waiting for….out came the tanks!!

And I didn’t run screaming to the car. In fact, I was quite curious, and almost all of us gathered round for a closer look. There were 3 of the zoo’s tarantulas and a massive, (they even said it was the biggest they’d had yet!), house spider, the kind I’d been so terrified of. But I just wasn’t anymore. I didn’t want it on me, but I could go near it, look at all the bits of it’s anatomy that we’d been learning about and even pick up the see-through box with it in! This was HUGE for me. Before I’d never been able to get close enough to put a glass over, never mind actually touch anything with one inside. It felt so freeing. Then Dave took the lid off….and let it out onto the carpet!

That was a bit worrying if I’m honest, and I felt the old fear resurfacing a little, but I managed to keep a lid on it, and listened to Dave explain would would happen next, then felt slightly amazed as the spider did exactly what he had told us it would.

I then…….fanfare, drum roll, cheers please………with only minimal initial freaking out……caught the spider in the glass, then held the glass!!!

The arachnophobia therapy course even had me holding spiders in clear boxes and smiling!!

Look at the size of it!! And I’m SMILING!!! All the proof needed that arachnophobia therapy really does work!

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that moment. A spider in the same room has made me actually gibber and even cry before and there I was, holding one in a glass and just looking at it naming all the bits of it calmly. I managed to catch it a further few times too, and I know I’d be able to do the same at home next time one wanders in instead of ‘calm screaming’ at my husband that ‘we need you right now, now, NOW!!!!’

Oh, and after that, I stroked a tarantula, as you do! It wasn’t at all what I was expecting actually. Usually I’d struggle to even look into the tanks from behind the glass at zoos but I was amazed to find that I wouldn’t have been adverse to holding it on my hand, it’s just that the spider didn’t fancy it much! Maybe it was human-phobic! 😀


 Louise 4                                Louise 3

*Massive understatement, it’s about 40,000. Since doing the arachnophobia therapy course, I’ve actually turned into a bit of a ‘spider bore’ would you believe, one of the main aims of the zoo courses are for educating people and I certainly feel they achieved that, and now I’m passing on my knowledge to anyone who will listen!!

I’d love to hear from you, tell me in the comments or on Twitter if you suffer in the same way as I did, and if an arachnophobia therapy course like this is something you’d ever consider.



    • April 14, 2016 / 7:11 am

      It was so hard booking it & going! I’m so glad I did though. I saw a spider yesterday with my son & didn’t freak out at all. Felt so good!!

  1. Nicky
    April 13, 2016 / 3:38 pm

    I did the same course last September and it was fab! My spider phobia was quite extreme (my parents weren’t best pleased when I turned up on their doorstep at 1am crying and slightly hysterical that there was a spider on my bedroom wall!) and friends were used to hysterical phone calls begging to be rescued from a monster in the lounge. They were always “the biggest one I’ve ever seen”! Since doing the course, I am slightly better and think I could now deal with one. Or kill it. Which really wasn’t the point of the course!!

    • April 14, 2016 / 7:14 am

      Hahaha!! No I’m not sure it was the point! I’m so glad it helped you though, it sounds like you had a terrible time before. People just can’t understand how something so small can be so scary, if you don’t have the fear you don’t realise I don’t think. Thanks for reading & for sharing your story!

  2. April 14, 2016 / 7:51 pm

    Wow, this is amazing! You are cured! I have a weird phobia of bridges – well more specifically, driving over them. It’s a pain in the butt as I can’t go to IKEA without a chaperone, but my hubby is probably relieved 😉
    Thanks for linking up to #coolmumclub!

  3. April 18, 2016 / 6:43 am

    Wow! Well done. I can’t believe they can achieve so much in one evening, but you are living proof. #bigpinklink

  4. April 18, 2016 / 6:54 am

    This is so interesting! I don’t have any true phobias, but I know people who do, and they can be so crippling. Sounds like money well spent 🙂
    Thanks for hosting #BigPinkLink

  5. April 18, 2016 / 7:05 am

    it sounds amazing and something I would do. But yes spiders creep me out! I am usually OK when they are just sitting far away and not on the move, but if they move I freak out! I even feel a bit creeped out reading this post, like I have a spider watching me eeeekkkkkkk Well done. #bigpinklink

  6. April 18, 2016 / 8:12 am

    well done, i could never get that close to my biggest fear, a rat 🙁 #bigpinklink

  7. April 18, 2016 / 8:26 am

    I think the fact that I saw this picture and really had to force myself to click on this post tells you something. I am completely petrified of them. I often have horrific nightmares where I think they are crawling all over me •shudders* and will be screaming in my sleep. I would love to do something like this but I don’t think there is anything like it on Jersey and also I am just too scared to even do it anyway! Well done for doing it though, really brave of you! 🙂 #bigpinklink

  8. April 18, 2016 / 10:27 am

    I would be really interested to go on a course like this. I don’t particularly enjoy spiders but I will look at them if they are in a container/box etc. Sounds like it worked really well for you! #bigpinklink

  9. April 18, 2016 / 11:51 am

    I take my hat off to you because there is no way on God’s green planet that I would be stroking a spider…just seeing your pics has sent cold shivers down my spine. Spiders and scorpions…no thank you! This is a great post though and I’m really impressed that you were able to do what you did so kudos to you! x #bigpinklink

    • April 18, 2016 / 3:42 pm

      …just came back for another nosey…OH MY FrEAKIN’ WORD…still can’t

      • pinkpearbear
        April 24, 2016 / 7:51 pm

        Haha, it wasn’t so bad honest!

  10. April 18, 2016 / 12:06 pm

    Wow! What an achievement! I’m not too worried about spiders but I totally understand your description of the fear and anxiety you used to go through – I get that with other stuff… So I can appreciate what a big deal it must have been! Well done you!! x #bigpinklink

  11. April 18, 2016 / 1:18 pm

    Wow!! I’m impressed with you for going and with how well the course went. I’d probably have been a little sceptical so I’m really pleased to hear it worked for you 🙂 #bigpinklink x

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:56 pm

      Me too before I went. Plus I SWEAR it wasn’t working at the time. Obviously I was wrong though!

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:55 pm

      I know!!!!!! Eek!

  12. April 18, 2016 / 4:06 pm

    Oh my god, you’re amazing!! I too am quite scared of spiders and if I saw a house spider like that I would scream very loudly and, ideally, shut the door to the room I saw it in and not go back in until somebody had removed it (or killed it, which my husband is prone to doing). Well done for doing this, I am so impressed at that course. Might see if there is one near me! #bigpinklink

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:50 pm

      It was so worth it, seriously. It’s such a crippling phobia isn’t it??

  13. April 18, 2016 / 5:16 pm

    I would love to do this. And well done you, very brave. For future reference, cats are very good spider catchers. #bigpinklink

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:47 pm

      Our cat isn’t bothered, or the dog! I did once see a cat eat one ears ago and it totally freaked me out!!

  14. April 18, 2016 / 6:30 pm

    i am not an arachnophobe but don’t love the feckers either. if they are big i usually grab a shoe and be done with it. Urhg……..well done for overcoming your fear. !

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:45 pm

      Eurgh! I couldn’t even do that before! Squelch!

  15. April 18, 2016 / 8:25 pm

    I don’t know how you did this! I don’t even mind spiders *that* much and just looking at the pictures made me shudder. Well done you! #bigpinklink

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:43 pm

      Thank you! I am trying to stay brave but I’ve yet to test myself properly as I’ve not seen a spider in the house since. Sods law! 😀

  16. April 19, 2016 / 10:36 am

    A-MAZ-ING. Well done I am so pleased for you! I used to live with someone who had arachnophobia and every little black dot would make him flinch! He did the same type of course at London Zoo and it was amazing to see the difference it made – literally life changing. Bet you are so proud of yourself – have you ventured into the garage yet??! 🙂 #bigpinklink

    • April 19, 2016 / 2:16 pm

      Yes!!!!!! I was fine!! *happy dance* And the shed!

  17. April 19, 2016 / 2:51 pm

    Ahhh I can’t believe you touched that ginormous spider! I could hold the glass with a spider inside but touching them is a different thing. Well done lady! Thanks so much for linking up with #bloggerclubuk x

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:36 pm

      It was sooooo scary! I felt so good after!

  18. April 20, 2016 / 11:49 am

    Ewwwwwww, you touched the nasty, big horrible spider. I am really impressed. In between being grossed out as spiders are EVIL.

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:30 pm

      It was HONESTLY not so bad!

  19. April 21, 2016 / 3:24 am

    I have a phobia of cock roaches. I used to live in southern Nevada and they were very common even if your house was spotless….which mine always was. Not to mention I had a bug guy come and spray not once but twice a month. Now in Northern Nevada we have a problem with scorpions in the area we live in because there is a lot of undeveloped land around us. The first time I found one in my house I spent the next two days moving everything, cleaning and looking for them. They aren’t poisonous ones but will hurt if stung by one just the same. Thanks so much for hostessing #bigpinklink

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:23 pm

      Eeek, I’m not a big cockroach fan either! I spent some time travelling in the Caribbean and they would run over our bare feet when we sat in the garden at night. The scorpions sound not fun at all!

  20. April 22, 2016 / 10:51 pm

    Fascinating – glad it worked for you! I’m very phobic too (also about most insects and all rodents), but I don’t think I’d be brave enough to sign up for the course! #bigpinklink

    • pinkpearbear
      April 24, 2016 / 7:16 pm

      That’s how I felt! I’m so glad I did it though!

  21. October 2, 2016 / 7:16 am

    You know my feelings on these beasties. I’m also terrified. I can kind of cope with the tarantulas as they are like the teddy bear equivalent of a spider. That house spider though… Bleughh! *shudders* You are a very brave woman. I am feeling quite inspires though and would love to explore something similar if it ever came up nearer to me. Thanks for sharing xx

    • October 9, 2016 / 7:05 pm

      I honestly felt the same. I’m not saying that I’m totally over it now, but I am just more curiously distant then run screaming blue murder!

  22. October 4, 2016 / 4:51 am

    Hi Louise, well done you! I can totally relate to your description of how you feel when you see one in the house. I have been known to sit there not taking my eyes of a spider for half an hour or more (I like to know where my enemies are). Until someone brave enough to move it arrives home….. Luckily neither of my children have picked up my phobia, and are more than happy to remove said spider from the house.

    When I was taking the photos of Big Bertha (humanising them helps) I wasn’t comfortable, but she was miles away from home and thank goodness for zoom lenses!

    I’d be interested in hearing if the therapy works for the long term. A follow-up post next year maybe? With you sharing photos of your new pet Tiny Tim the tarantula?


    • October 4, 2016 / 7:55 pm

      That post was back in May and although I’m not overly comfortable with them still, I don’t freak out anywhere near as much and can be quite calm and rational about their presence. I’m a lot less nervy when in the garage, shed or garden now too. It’s like a weight off! I still wouldn’t be happy to find one on my pillow though!

      It’s also made the children less scared too which was my main aim, in fact, my son will happily pick them up now, whereas before he would copy me and screech at them! I agree, it’s very useful to have them around to remove the little beasties.

  23. April 18, 2017 / 9:25 pm

    I am petrified of spiders! I won’t do gardening, go in the garage and I check out every room before I walk in it (not obviously but out the corner of my eyes) I was thinking of doing this course but it worries me that spiders will be there..
    I have just got my partner to kill a black one on my bedroom wall while I was hiding in the spare room, he showed me it in the tissue though to settle my mind that it was gone. Half an hour later I’m still online looking for ways to treat my phobia. I’m going to Glastonbury festival in June and worried about camping in the field with creepy crawlies. I really would like to do something to help myself. I live in Bristol and am thinking about enquiring for this course. I think I would be stressed out from the moment I paid for it though, worrying about the spiders being there!

    • April 24, 2017 / 9:21 am

      Ellisia, I can’t tell you how much this course has helped me, seriously, I’m not being dramatic when I say that it has literally changed my life. Please don’t worry about the spiders, they are not in the same room until the very end of the course and everyone was given the option to leave if they wanted to, and noone was forced to do anything, it was amazing the change in people though. I promise you that it was the best money I have EVER spent. Do let me know what you decide and good luck, life with a spider phobia is miserable, a year on and I barely ever think about them, I’m being 100% honest with you, I don’t love them but that terror has gone.

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