Do spiders scare you silly? The Deep can change that
The Deep is launching courses to help people overcome their fear of spiders next month. Natalie Murphy attended a pilot session in an attempt to beat her phobia ...
BEHIND the scenes at the museum and assistant curator at The Deep, Andrew McLeod, is opening a small tank containing a rather large fishing spider.
I'm posing nearby for a picture ahead of my participation in a trial run of a new spider phobia course being launched at the attraction and the photographer is asking if I can get a bit nearer for the shot. Not likely.
Spiders are one of the things I am afraid of but I am hoping that will change following the afternoon's session.
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A natural-born worrier, the number of things that bother me has increased with age and this is something I am keen to change, starting with spiders.
So away from the exhibits in one of the education rooms on the ground floor, I join half-a-dozen other arachnophobics also here to face their fears.
We begin with a talk from curator Katy Duke, who aims to bust a few myths about the creatures, firstly, by highlighting their role in human history.
"In American-Indian culture, there is a spider god said to have taught spinning to the Navajo people," she says.
The Hindu tradition of throwing spiders over the bride and groom at weddings for luck is also mentioned, as is the story of Robert the Bruce apparently being inspired by a determined spider.
So far so good. I'm happy to listen to spider yarns, I just don't want to find one spinning a web in the corner of my bedroom, and when Katy explains that spiders are found on every continent except Antarctica, I briefly consider moving there.
"There are 38,000 species of spider worldwide," Katy says.
"And there are 600 found in the UK but we are only likely to ever encounter eight, as many are tiny – less than one millimetre – or are cave dwelling.
"The ones we see are known as house spiders but really they are garden spiders that get into our houses because we leave windows or doors open and they have taken a wrong turn."
The crucial role of spiders in ecology is something else we learn about and I am grateful when I hear how they protect our crops by eating tonnes and tonnes of insects.
"Without humans, it is estimated the life of the plant would increase by one million years," Katy says.
"Without spiders, we would have five years to live."
Using a series of inspired props, Katy then gives us an insight into the anatomy of spiders, going some way to explain the behaviour which can sometimes seem intimidating to humans.
She says: "They don't have very good eyesight.
"They can see dark and light and they can see movement but they can't see a lot else, so they like to hide.
"They rely on touch and vibration.
"If you see one coming across the carpet towards you, it is probably because it has been disturbed by the vibration of the television and is looking for the nearest dark place, which is under the sofa you are sitting on."
After a tea break, it is on to the hypnotherapy part of the session, led by Sheila Howells, a qualified nurse clinically trained in the practice.
She tells us the relaxed state she hopes we will experience is something that happens naturally to people everyday, for example when absorbed in a book or television programme.
"All I will be doing is helping all of you to reach that state," she says.
We lie on mats and just as I am thinking I am going to struggle with this part, I suddenly let go and can focus completely on Sheila's soothing voice.
Over a period of about 45 minutes, she asks us to think about experiences when we have felt happy, confident or relaxed, and then to attach these feelings to a visualisation of a spider.
The idea is that we can then call upon these feelings of calm and control when we encounter a spider, thus overcoming our phobia.
When Shelia asks us to open our eyes, I feel energised and refreshed and eager to complete the final part of the day – an optional close encounter with a house spider.
I was nervous but when it came to actually catching the creature in a glass, gently placing a piece of cardboard underneath, and moving it from one part of the room to another, I was totally at ease.
This was true of my fellow phobics, all of whom were able to complete the task – something none of us had ever attempted before – too.
We even each had another go and I was amazed to find my confidence only increased second time around – something Sheila had said would happen.
My fear has not disappeared but the combination of science and suggestion has given me the tools to deal with it.
I would not be delighted to find a spider in the bath but, having been on the course, I would now not hesitate to scoop it up and put it back outside where it belongs.
Looking after the fishing spider is something I'll leave to Andrew and his team, though.
• THE Deep's first Web's Be Friends spider phobia course will be held on Saturday, July 7.
It costs £75 and places must be booked in advance.
Call 01482 381000 or e-mail email@example.com for more information.