Therapeutic Principles
This program is designed to build upon the basic assessment and therapeutic skills you have developed as a professional psychologist. It is not necessary to be flight-qualified to present the aerodynamic principles to your client. That work has already been done for you. Of course if you yourself have significant flight anxiety, I suggest you master your fear before attempting to work with other fearful fliers. Simply give yourself “patient status” for a while, and apply the material to yourself. The same applies to the material on meteorology. It will help if you explore the website aviationweather.gov (see link on this page) and become familiar with the wealth of information available to anyone curious about the information pilots absorb before each flight. The website is reasonably intuitive and contains a wealth of material. Of course, all content must be delivered in a therapeutic atmosphere.
Listed below are the principles which I have followed in my encounters with fearful fliers:
A solid working relationship. As with all forms of psychotherapy, nothing works without this.
Focus. It is important to address all the material in the book in order from beginning to end. It is easy to get side tracked or jump ahead, but not wise. The same applies to adding or modifying the material as you are working through the lessons. Save the additions for the end of the material. As you become more familiar with the material and fearful fliers' response to it, it will be easier to judge the consequences of expanding or reducing focus on certain concepts. I will appreciate learning your thoughts, observations, and suggestions, and look forward to hearing from you.
  • Clinical judgment. Not all fearful fliers are alike. Some work faster, some are more deliberate. Some have mild co-occurring anxiety problems and some have a trauma history that must be addressed throughout the learning of the material. If a small push forward doesn’t get the job done, it is best to rework the lessons and accompanying problems until a “small push” delivers a sense of accomplishment from your patient. Read the material in the appendices. You will get a good sense of the variety of situations you will encounter. Some patients will remain your patients long after their fear of flying resolves and others will be happily on their way after their first post-program flight.
  • Active Relaxation. Don’t give up on the principle of “active relaxation.” As a general rule you will find that the more anxious your patient, the more difficult it is to achieve muscle relaxation. Sometimes a person will say their muscles are relaxed, but it is clear that there is a lot of residual muscle tension. Work with this until the muscles are truly relaxed, and then emphasize how important it is to be able to distinguish between a relaxed and tense muscle. Mastery of active relaxation is absolutely necessary for the fearful flier to achieve the freedom to fly and then the freedom from fear.
  • Muscle Relaxation. While muscle relaxation is necessary for success, it is not sufficient. The fearful flier’s capacity to learn and use this material is significantly facilitated by relaxed muscles.
  • Repetition and practice are critical to success. In the early stages of learning, regression to old habits and old ways of perceiving are common. Once success is experienced, the positive consequences are very powerful. It’s the “getting there” that is often painfully slow.
Next: Details and
Summary

Michael P. Tomaro, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2015 The Institute for Human Factors, Inc.