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Sweating Before an Audience—Working to Control a Phobia

A beginning advertising executive starts to sweat profusely when she starts her presentation in front of her boss and the staff. A graduate student stammers and is barely audible when delivering a seminar paper. His thoughts of an academic career, like his speech, slip away.
Fear of an audience. Suddenly the words aren't there. They are replaced by fear—a phobia that leads to paralysis.
Prof. Marilyn Safir of the Dept. of Psychologist is experimenting with virtual reality and with people's imaginations to lessen this fear. She is working with two colleagues, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist, through the University's Center for the Study of Psychological Stress on a series of therapeutic treatments.
The therapies are based on cognitive-behavioral techniques that have been tested around the world, but never before used to compare CBT techniques to combat speech anxiety. Safir's colleagues have voluntary appointments with the University's Laboratory for CBT and Family Therapy, which she co-directs.
One of the experimental treatments involves donning a virtual reality helmet that gives the patient the simulated feeling of facing an audience. The patient enters into this experience gradually, learning to control his or her thoughts and to develop skills at overcoming the fear.
Another treatment employs the patient's imagination to determine what situations bother the person. A hierarchy of such situations is formed. The therapist advances from one to the next only after the patient, imagining the particular setting, feels no anxiety from it.
According to Safir, these treatments are much more effective than other psychological and medicinal treatments for alleviating fear. "Drug treatments," she said, may lessen fear, but they do not help to develop coping skills." Both the virtual reality and the imagination technique, she continued, are meant to treat this fear for the long-run, not just for the moment.
The psychologist is also trying to determine which of the two is better and for whom.
The aim, she explained, is not to reduce anxiety to zero, but to a level that the person can do something with it. A certain amount of anxiety, she pointed out, actually pushes people to act. It cannot, though, take over and cause people to overlook their own competence.
"It is difficult," Safir acknowledges, "but not the end of the world to suffer from some anxiety. For that reason, it is important to examine the thoughts producing anxiety." She said that it is the person's interpretation of a situation, not the situation itself, that brings on the fear.
At present, there is no charge for the 12 treatments, since the techniques are still in the experimental stage. So, if you are between the ages of 20 and 35 and you fall apart just thinking about having to face an audience, you might want to get in touch with Marilyn Safir or the Center for the Study of Psychological Stress at the University.

In This Issue:

The University Becomes a Little Like Annapolis (and West Point)

Supported Academic Learning Aids Students with Problems

Synagogue/Church Controversy and a Digestive Amulet
Mark University’s Dig at Hippos-Sussita

Golumbic Elected Israel’s 1st European Fellow

Prof. Asher Koriat Is 1st Recipient of Prestigious German Award

Intelligence Corps Wisely Chooses the University

Sweating Before an Audience—Working to Control a Phobia

Michael Wainer—University’s First Vice President for Finance
and Business Development

Prof. Eli Salzberger Elected Next Dean of Law Faculty

University Responds to Tulane Students' Needs

A Look Back at Graduation 2005

33rd Board of Governors Opens with Song and Story

University Honors Five with Honorary Doctorate
First Egyptian to Conduct in Israel Adds Highlight to Ceremony

Social Responsibility Reflected in a Wide Pool

New Recanati Lab Dedicated



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