Although fear is something that most people consider a natural thing, claiming that only fools don’t fear a thing, there are a number of fears called phobias that are taken as psychological deviations by the scientists and doctors. In such cases, the faster the patient is cured, the sooner the society gets rid of another maniac-to-come. The most obvious but not necessarily the most correct decision, it is still the prior one for most people in the modern society.
Cassie Harper never thought that her journey to the Solomon Islands would end at the psychologist’s.
“I am a programmer. I understand that this is not the very profession that a twenty-seven-year old blonde is supposed to have, but this is how the things went for me. If only you could imagine all those scornful looks that men used to cast at me as I only began working! But times changed, and they finally understood that this is something they should take for granted.”
Cassie stopped. It was understood that she had difficulties with explaining the nuances about her past. Whenever it was hard or not, it still was something she was used to and now deprived off.
Indeed, the life that she has abandoned now is something dreamy for a young lady of thirty, with all the prospects of a brilliant future ahead, and with the years to live for happiness and future adventures that might take her to whenever she wanted.
However, there could be something that a professional doctor could suggest her. But first…
The trip to the islands seemed to her a great idea. Without thinking much of what she should take with her, or where the trip would take her, Cassie had bought the tickets and soon was flying away to the islands where the world would be different for her, where the people will seem not the way she used to see them, and where she would experience the new traditions and customs that she had never heard of.
The next few days were bliss, though getting accustomed to the new environment did take some time. She went to every single attraction that could be found there for the tourists hungry for impressions, and nothing could stop her from diving in the sea or trying the new national dish in the local cafe.
Then it was all about the fire.
Was it really the malfunction of the appliances? Or did someone left a cigar burning in te hotel while Cassie was sleeping in her bed, all tired after the yesterday’s looking for another set of impressions? Hardly anyone knows the answer to this question. Anyway, the hotel was set on fire, and, though Cassie managed to get out of the burning house and stay alive. Her face got terrible burns.
She was taken to the hospital immediately.
“We will do everything possible”, the local doctors said but the result of the operation drew Cassie nearly crazy. Her fade did not belong to her anymore. It was someone else looking at her from the bottom of the mirror, face twisted, all ugly and unrecognizable.
One might think that the next station for Cassie would be the lunatic asylum, but it is not the ending yet.
As she got home, there were no mirrors in the flat anymore.
Since the insurance covered the plastic surgery, and the doctors in her home city did their best at restoring the ways she used to look. In fact, they succeeded with flying colors, and the only thing that could remind of the accident was the fear in Cassie’s eyes.
As she recovered, she tried to look in the mirror for the first time since the bad accident.
To her amazement, she could not do it.
The very shape of the glass made her tremble. As someone approached her with a looking-glass in their hands, she could not help gasping with terror.
From this time on, she opened a new page in her life, and this page was sewn with terror.
Every encounter with a mirror was a shock. Even going to the hairdresser’s would be a problem, making her think that in the end he or she will say:
“Now take a look at your new hairdo, ma’am!”
There was nothing that could help her to solve the problem, and that made her escape it.
The job did not seem so wonderful anymore, and the sun did not shine that bright. It seemed a total madness, because she did have a normal look, and it seemed that there was nothing to fear! This was what her mind told her, but as she tried to overcome the fear and look into the shining surface of the mirror, each time she would avert her gaze.
Poor Cassie thought that it was high time for her o consult a psychiatrist or even address to the asylum.
“After all, they will take a good care of me the way no on else ever has,” she grinned. “And maybe then I will finally start to eat well and regularly.”
The clouds did not go by even as she tried to take a break from work and find a hobby to think about. The haunting fear was following her, and every shingle surface that held her reflection at least for a second drove her mad.
Finally, there came the day when she decided to take hold of the situation.
“Stop fooling around, a psychologist is not going to bite you,” she told herself as she passed the threshold of the private clinic.
The surrounding was inviting to relax, and the whole situation reminded of paying a visit to a friend rather than consulting a doctor.
As her turn came, she entered the doctor’s study.
Doctor Stamford was thinking hard. The case seemed far more complicated than he originally thought.
“I am afraid that when I look in the mirror there will be – someone else, not me. Or that there will be my face with all those terrible scars and burns which I had after the accident. Or – “
“Or that someone will pop out of the mirror and take me to the burning house again to spoil my face and my life once again.”
Indeed, the case was more than complicated.
Summing up the problems that Cassie and Doctor Stamford were to solve, these were the tragic scar that the arson left in Cassie’s memory, and then it was the catoptrophobia itself – the fear of mirrors. (Ronald 2008) And, finally, everything was getting even more complicated, because the plastic surgeons gave Cassie her face back, but did not kill the fear that was growing in here ever since.
It was like something that has been locked twice, or even thrice, and the process of recovery promised to be very long and wearing-out.
However, the patient was rather young, and that raised the hope that she would find the forces to fight the disease quicker than the doctor supposed.
Drawing the plan for the patient to be cured, Doctor Stamford marked the following stages.
What was truly amazing was the fact that the patient had already taken some steps to the recovery.
First, Cassie acknowledged that she was afraid of mirrors, while most people tend to conceal from the rest of the world and from themselves as well the objects of their fear. The reasons for that are multiple, but the main on is that they want to be considered as “normal”. Cassie already passed that stage, and that was something that made the doctor feel positively sure that the patient will be able to get over the phobia.
Then, it was a huge step that she made as she decided voluntarily to come to the hospital and be treated. Not fearing to show that she had certain problems, she was open enough for the doctor to conduct the necessary treatment.
And, finally, she began to realize what exactly made her fear mirrors. Unlike in most cases of people who had catoptrophobia, her fears were not connected with the superstitions anyhow. It was not the scary monster that she was afraid to see there, but the very image of her, distorted by the blind force of fire.
In spite of the fact that so many things have already been done, there was a lot of hard work ahead.
The steps that the doctor marked as the most necessary ones that have to be taken in the first line were the following, marked red in his notebook
The first paragraph read that Cassie had to realize that her fear was irrational. She was already on the way to this idea, and all she needed was a little push. These might be the conversations aimed at her realizing the fact, and the talks that were sewn through with the idea of her fears as a fake that bothered her life.
There should be something that could distract the patient from the gloomy meditations, the doctor though. The core idea was to make Cassie understand that a mirror is just an object that does not carry anything identifying her personality.
However, it is well understood that psychology is the science where there are no common cases and laws. Every patient is unique, with his or her unique problems, as well as methods to solve them. What might have worked with Mr. Doe, will be completely wrong to apply to Mrs. Roe. Dr. Stamford was to think of something that linked Cassie’s character and the ways to defeat the enemy within.
He analyzed the patient once more. A strong and determined personality she was, much of a man-like type. With the need for the new experiences and the new dangerous things to face and to handle, she needed a specific approach that would be focused on her temper. This was the typical case of the rat and the lever (Chance 2008, 138), where the necessary string to pull must be found.
Since the case was something completely special, there was supposed to be the according treatment. Basically, it should involve shaping Cassie’s attitude towards the fear that she was prepossessed with.
First of all, the following plan was to be adhered to.
Using the technology of shaping and chaining, the doctor was about to create a specific strategy that Cassie could adhere to. “The reinforcement of successful approximations”, which chaining is (Chance 2008, 141) involved basically meant that the doctor was to outline the so-called triggers that the patient would react to. The idea was that each step that she would take would be a kind of a mark that would encourage her to go further.
First of all, the doctor must shape Cassie’s reaction to the mirrors.
The things to pay special attention to were seeing the mirror, recognizing it as an object, recognizing its properties – in the given case, the property to reflect – and, finally, watching her own reflection.
Thus, the plan of chaining consisted of the following positions:
First, Cassie needed to get used to mirrors without looking into them. So it could be a good idea to place one with its backside up and ask her to look at it, touch it and maybe hold it for a while, not looking in the very mirror.
As the patient gets used to the idea that nothing bad happens after touching a mirror, the doctor will ask the patient to take something in her hand and bring it closer to the mirror. Cassie will see the reflection of the object, but will not see the reflection of her hand or fingers, for she is not ready for this yet.
After a number of tries, which will involve step one and step two, that is, touching the mirror and watching the reflection of an object there, it will be the right time for Cassie to see herself. Not fully, though. She will try to see the reflection of her clothes in the mirror – a sleeve, for example, or a scarf, or a glove – something that she has on.
The fourth element for Cassie will be watching her hand in the mirror. This will be a significant progress already, and as she comes to this stage, it could be said that she is halfway there.
Finally, the time has come for Cassie to see her own face. This might be only for a single moment, but this step is the most important one. The success of the previous actions that have been worked on for a number of times will drive her to the idea that nothing will happen if she takes a quick look in the mirror.
After making all these steps, Cassie will get rid of her phobia for sure.
The results were astounding. Cassie played the part that was prescribed to her with the diligence of a schoolgirl, starting from watching the reflection of a pen in the mirror to watching her scarf reflected in the mirror.
However, the final stage – watching her face in the mirror – did cause certain hesitations. She feared the last link in this chain hard, and the doctor invented specific behavior that she had to follow.
Cassie was told to smile as the mirror would be turned on her. And as she looked at her reflection, smiling broadly, she felt easier.
Now, a year and a half later, Cassie is a cheerful woman who cannot help looking in the mirror at least once an hour to fix her hair, or to apply the makeup, or simply to admire her gorgeous look.
The role of shaping and chaining in fighting with phobias cannot be exaggerated. It is one of those great discoveries that have helped people to understand the nature of a man’s psychology. The factors that make people accomplish a certain action have been unraveled with the help of these theories, and, despite the apparent simplicity of the procedure, it works right in most cases.
The pattern of treatment strategy that they give can suit to heal any phobia known to psychologists. Like any other means of treatment in the sphere of human’s soul, these can, and should be modified according to the kind of phobia and the character of the patient, but the core idea has to remain the same.
Programming a patient for a success I his or her actions, a psychologist gives him or her a pattern that they will remember as a successful one, and that will both make them believe in themselves and see that the phobia that they are possessed with is curable. With such treatment, there will be less and less people suffering from phobias, which is definitely a great prospect to pursue.
Chance, P. (2008) Learning and Behaviour: Active Learning Edition. 6th Ed. Stamford, CN: Cengage Learning.
Ronald M. D., ,Kahn A. P., & Adamec C. A. (2008). The Encyclopedia of Phobias, Fears and Anxieties. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.