New Fear of Flying Program Really Took Off!

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Dr. Shulman and some of the group after the flight.


This spring saw the launch of the very first of Shift Cognitive Therapy + Assessment’s new Flying Without Fear program and it was an absolute success. Five people attended the 2-day workshop, which was held in our Oakville offices over 2 Saturdays at the end of April. A few weeks later, we rented an aircraft and flew as a group, taking an exciting tour over Niagara Falls.


Three people in the group had never flown before, two flew periodically, but with terrible fear and only with medication, and a sixth person who joined us for the flight hadn’t flown for many years. All were nervous about attending and almost all were convinced that they would be “the most” frightened. However, fears being what they are, those were exaggerations. Within a very short time, people found that they were in a supportive group of others who understood exactly what they were going through, and no one remained anxious for more than a few minutes.

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People got comfortable with the size of the plane.

On Day 1 of the program, we learned about the body and why different people are more and less likely to panic when afraid. We also spent time understanding how perfectly smart and rational people can sometimes feel totally child-like and helpless when they think about flying. The group was reassured knowing they all had such similar types of experiences, despite coming from very different backgrounds in life. Much of that first day was devoted to learning a wide range of tools to use for coping with anxious thoughts and feelings, both before flying and when on the plane. Dr. Shulman challenged everyone to practice using their tools over the week.

At the start of Day 2 people very proudly reported what they had done to practice. One man went up the CN Tower, a place he had avoided for years because of fears he might panic in the elevator (he didn’t!) and a woman drove up the Hamilton Escarpment. She too had avoided going there for many years because of a fear that she might suddenly lose control of her car and crash through the guardrail (she didn’t!). A third person said she challenged her fears of germs and her tendency to ritualize about being prepared for everything by giving up control and eating a hot dog from a food cart downtown. While none of those activities were what most people would consider “dangerous,” they were frightening for those individuals in the group. Every person took great pride in their willingness to embrace discomfort and go for it, even though they felt afraid.

Capt. Joe R, a commercial pilot joined us for a portion of the session on Day 2, and answered people’s questions about flight. The most common included explanations of what turbulence is (just places where warmer and cooler air meet), how frequently airplanes and pilots are inspected and certified, explanations about how aircraft communicate with each other and with the ground, and what takeoff and landing are really like.

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About 20 minutes into our flight. Neither of these people had ever flown before!

Early in June, three members of the group plus two others met at the Burlington Executive Airpark for our confirmation flight with Capt. Dave Babiak of DB Air Charters. This was where people really got to practice the tools they had learned. After a brief introduction to Capt. Dave we boarded his plane and spent more than hour on the ground practicing skills for relaxation and coping with anxious feelings and fears. Everyone felt some degree of fear over that time, ranging from mild nervousness to a more intense feeling of needing to escape from the cabin. In each case, Dr. Shulman worked with every member of the group individually and members of the group worked together to support each other. As expected, by the time we were scheduled to depart everyone gave the thumbs up and we taxied to the runway.

Within a few minutes, we were airborne and heading for a tour of Niagara Falls. Most people remained anxious during the first 5 minutes of the flight. Two people were still feeling afraid after 10 minutes, and only one person was still frightened at15 minutes. After that, every single person felt calm and free to enjoy the remainder of the flight without fear.

Our next program will take place April 11 & 18, 2015. Contact us at Shift for details and to guarantee your spot.
Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps people learn to get over their fears.