Skip to main content

Simple CBT for Spiders

Written by Tim on 2 April 2015

Usually our brains assess and deal with risks we face on a daily basis without us being aware of them. Getting out of bed, having a shower, preparing and eating breakfast, and travelling to work all have risks but for most of us they aren’t even given a second thought. Sometimes though, we are alerted to danger through the feeling of anxiety or fear. In most cases fear plays a very important role in helping us to avoid danger but sometimes it arises in ways that could be described as irrational. This blog looks at simple ways to start overcoming a fear of spiders.

While spiders, heights, dogs and germs are all examples of things that can be dangerous, a debilitating fear of them could be classed as irrational. It is usual to have a few fears that do not seem to make logical sense but it can get to a point where experiencing anxiety too regularly becomes very tiresome and can become crippling. While it is not easy, it is possible to understand and change the way our brains assess and respond to certain dangers. Of course, the aim here is not to stop our brains responses to genuinely dangerous situations, but to control those responses which are not.

It is important to note that for some people the theory and process shared below of understanding our fears may not be appropriate. For example, traumatic incidents leave a deep and lasting impact on individuals and fears that arise from such experiences may require a more complex understanding and resolution. However, for a lot of fears a basic understanding of cognitive behavioural theory (CBT) can be very helpful. Perhaps the most common of fears that people name is of spiders and as such is a very relevant example.

The theory

While ideas had been around for many years before his work, a major contributor to the development of CBT was Aaron Beck. The principle of CBT is very simple – the way we think determines the way we feel and behave. Therefore, using the example above, the way in which we think about spiders determines our feelings and reactions towards them. Using this as a foundation, the following three steps are helpful ways to begin to understand and challenge our thinking surrounding a fear. Even if you are not being crippled or severely affected by a certain fear, it is very useful to try to understand the way you are thinking about it. So use this as an exercise that will stand you in good stead for fears that may grip you in the future

  1. Assess the risk in your particular situation

While spiders can kill, for someone who lives in the UK it is very unlikely that they will come into contact with such a spider. The next step would be to assess the risk of those spiders that we do come into contact with. The reports of being bitten by a spider are incredibly low and unless you have an allergic reaction the bites will be nothing more than a painful. The most common spider in the UK that we will come into contact with is the house spider which, although on the large side is harmless. Of course, there is the very low possibility that we could come into contact with a deadly spider. In this instance a fear would be rational. Otherwise I would suggest it is not.

2.  Understand and get some context of how your brain has dealt with other similar risks


For most of us the assessment above would suggest that a fear of spiders in the UK is irrational, but for those that still need convincing the next step is to compare your reaction to other assessments your brain has made. The likelihood is that we have managed to control a fear of something that is similar or even more dangerous. Using our example, the possibility of a fire at home, cooking with sharp knives or driving to work are all likely to be more dangerous than spiders in the UK. However, for most of us with fears of spiders these risks do not regularly enter our minds. Hopefully by finding such instances, it will at the very least show you that it is possible to overcome a fear.

  • Facing the fear and understanding the anxiety curve


If you have managed to determine that your fear is irrational and needs addressing then it’s time to face it. Unfortunately, the principle of our thinking determining our feelings and behaviours does not mean that just changing the way we think immediately stops the reaction of fear. Our bodies develop a response to the fear that needs to be practically overcome. The release of adrenaline and the feeling of anxiety will still be active when you face a spider. However, the way anxiety works is very basic – by facing the fear and anxiety will only escalate until a certain point, whereupon it will start to decline. (For those with strong reactions to fear such as panic attacks, it is important that you have discussed a controlled method of facing the fear with a professional first). The idea is that if you go through the anxiety and at the end of the situation your fear has not been realised then next time the fear should have reduced slightly. It will take a number of attempts at challenging the fear but eventually you will notice that you are starting to gain control over it.


These steps are only very basic but they are all part of what I like to call the ‘what is going on for me right now?’ approach. In every situation that we face it is essential that we believe that we can change the way that we act or react. We may never be able to be completely in control, but by understanding ourselves better and constantly asking ourselves, ‘what is going on for me right now?’, we can begin to gain an understanding of why we are the way we are. By applying these 3 steps it is possible to make a start on challenging any irrational fears that we may have. It may be tough but the effort is worth it.