The 13th Floor

This Zoo Will Actually Let You Snuggle With Spiders!

Image Credit: iStock/Aleynikov

Arachnaphobia is one of the most common of all fears (be to sure to check out this list to learn about some very uncommon phobias), and a pretty good percentage of humans have at least a slight aversion to eight-legged creepers. It’s also common knowledge that many phobias can be overcome by gradually exposing the sufferer to the source of their fears. (The key word here is gradually.)

Apparently that’s not the approach favored by the Zoological Society of London. When it comes to arachnopobia, this organization believes in total immersion therapy: the London Zoo’s “Friendly Spider Programme” encourages arachnophobes to get up close and intimate with the source of their wide-awake screaming nightmares. That’s right — they actually want you to cuddle with the zoo’s collection of live spiders.

Image Credit: iStock/Tiburon Studios
Image Credit: iStock/Tiburon Studios

“Millions of perfectly rational people are terrified of spiders,” says the ZSL official site. “No matter how much they try to calm themselves, the response remains the same: sweating, nausea, panic, rapid heartbeat and worse.” To help people overcome this phobia, the zoo has called upon the talents of several scientific and medical professionals.

The therapy sessions are conducted in multiple stages: an explanation of phobias and their causes by hypnotherapist John Clifford; a Q&A session with participants which helps to narrow down exactly what they dislike the most about spiders; a lecture by resident spider expert Dave Clarke, in which he dispels myths and misinformation and presents a positive overview of arachnids; a group hypnosis session designed to remove any remaining negative feelings about spiders; and finally a trip to the zoo’s bug house, where participants are welcome to pick up and play with an assortment of common (and harmless) spider species.

This last part is totally optional, but you may be surprised how many people actually go for it: according to the ZSL, since the Friendly Spider Programme began in 1993, over 3,000 people have participated, and more than 80% of them reported that they continue to be “calm, confident and relaxed” in the presence of spiders after taking part in the sessions.

If you’re planning to book a spider-based trip to London, bear in mind that the Friendly Spider sessions are totally booked until April, so you’ll have to wait until then to get your snuggle on with these eight-legged pals…

For more info, visit their web site. (See what I did there?)

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