Fast Fix For Phobias

Joanne McLaughlin, a 41-year-old working mom, enjoys a good challenge.

"I love thrills," she says. "I don't want anything stopping me from doing what I want."

But, as CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski reports, McLaughlin has a phobia that ties her down: a fear of flying.

On her anniversary vacation to Florida, her husband flew and she drove from Massachusetts.

The phobia cuts her off from family, like her grandmother out West.

"She hasn't seen my son since he was four months old at his christening, and she is 95 and I don't think she has a lot of time left," says McLaughlin.

"We treat fears of animals, fears of heights, fears of water and fears of darkness," says Jill Ehrenreich, a therapist for the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

There are no in-depth analytical sessions on Ehrenreich's couch. She treats longtime phobias in just one short week.

"You've learned to associate certain cues with those fear sensations that you felt," says Ehrenreich.

On day two, she tells McLaughlin to, "Spin for as long as you can."

McLaughlin is asked to reproduce the feelings that scare her when she flies.

She is then told to, "Concentrate on what you're feeling."

On the third day, McLaughlin confronts her fears at the airport. This is intensive, in-your-face therapy, and the dropout rate can be high. But be aware, this type of therapy does have limits.

"If there is a deeper underlying problem that seems to be giving rise to, or contributing to, the phobia, this type of treatment may be helpful as a starting point, but it will rarely be sufficient by itself," says Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University.

Ehrenreich agrees, but says for simple phobias, it works.

"We have had some demonstrations of therapists helping people with phobias in 3 to 5 hours," says Ehrenreich.

On the last day of therapy, McLaughlin's moment of truth arrives - not on a jumbo jet, but on an even scarier four-seater.

"I can't believe I am getting on this thing," she says. "I'm nervous. I can't say I am not nervous. I'm nervous."

And she's off. It took a little perseverance and a little support.

"I'm nothing but proud of you, and I know everybody else is too," Ehrenreich tells her.

But the week of therapy worked. McLaughlin pulled through. She flew and plans to keep on flying.

"The second time I might be a little scared, a little less, a little less until I finally get it into my head that no matter what happens I am going to survive," says McLaughlin.

She's already planning that trip to see grandma and other far-off places.
  • Jaime Holguin

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