If you fall off a horse, you should get right back on. Confronting our fears makes sense, and it’s also an approach approved of by psychologists, who call it ‘behavioural therapy’.
Now neuroscientists are getting interested in the way we face our fears. Whenever we do, our brains go through a learning process called ‘fear extinction’, which competes with the initial fear. The chemical processes that go on during fear extinction are similar to those that occur when we learn something new. Scientists have isolated a receptor protein called D-cycloserine (DCS) that gets triggered when we learn or when we face up to a fear.
DCS has been used for years in treating tuberculosis (TB), but researchers recently gave it to a group of 30 people with a debilitating fear of heights. Usually, people have to confront the thing they’re frightened of in eight separate sessions before they are anywhere close to eliminating their fear, but researchers were able to achieve the result after just two sessions – once the participants had been given DCS.
(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, 2004; 291: 289-90).