Ohio professor helps students beat anxiety and phobias on roller coasters

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Professor Kevin Myer teaches students to overcome general anxiety and phobias through immersion and exposure therapy. This leads him and his subjects to ride roller coasters at Cedar Point.

See the video from ABC News.

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OhioStater's avatar

Thanks for sharing this here, Jeff. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I realize I have somehow mixed roller-coasters (and Cedar Point specifically) with a job I already love. Now on to planning Face your Fear 7...

Jeff's avatar

It's good stuff. I've been through a lot of trust and team building exercises with slightly younger kids many times as a coach, and watching that piece made me think of that. (Trust falls really freak some people out.) Of course, one could also view you as an enabler, so if any of your students start hanging out here, you only have yourself to blame. :)

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

OhioStater's avatar

I take full responsibility.

I have to say, the producer certainly picked great young people to take a closer look at. Speaking of trust, each year there is at least one young person who does not trust that any of this will work on him/her, and this year it was Lexie Bushee, who was pretty adamant that there was simply no way. A perfect place to start, from my perspective.

Makes you wonder how many things we miss out on in life because of fear that we would really enjoy.

What is the typical success rate in the class?

OhioStater's avatar

That was unfortunately not mentioned, but hey, they had over 30 hours of footage to reduce to 7 minutes, so I guess something had to hit the cutting-room floor. And the point you bring up is precisely the larger point of the whole project. It's about roller-coasters, but that's just the sexy packaging that the life lessons are tucked away in. I think Mary (the girl who cried tears of success after conquering Dragster) summed it up perfectly when she said that because she did that, she could do anything. There are follow ups once these kids are done with the course and I stay in touch with a great many of them (we have an alumni "Facebook" page). They eventually get it; that all the tools they learned and the work they put in are able to be generalized to any life situation where your biggest roadblock exists in the form of the boogeyman inside your head.

Over 6 years the project has a 77-0 record. Each year about 10 - 12 students are screened into the anxiety group, and they all set individual goals for what they want to achieve. Zach, for example, who had never ridden a roller coaster set his goal high; Millennium.

No student has ever failed to reach his/her goal, and that's all on them and their dedication to making it work.

Jeff's avatar

Set his goal high. I see what you did there.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

janfrederick's avatar

I never really gave fear much thought until a life changing event this past year. I'm now realizing what a huge role fear has played in the majority of my psychological issues. It seems to be the root in fact. The only problem is that they aren't as readily apparent as when expressed in a phobia. I kind of wish I could head out to Cedar Point to deal with my issues. Although, going to parks is indeed therapeutic....I'll be self-medicating with a low dose of Hyperspace Mountain tomorrow.

Does your class explore the root causes of those anxieties (not just how to face them)?

"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza
OhioStater's avatar

Yes, but only for those who have a desire to go there. Some do, but others are just happy they have proven to themselves that it actually is possible to slay the proverbial dragon.

An interesting thing about anxiety is that it has a way of bleeding into so many aspects of a person's life. What have I found over the years is that nearly every student who gets screened into the "roller coaster anxiety" group scores off the charts on other more general forms of anxiety, and many of them experience very real issues with it. In fact, there are some students who sign up for this course because they know what we do, and they want to learn things they can do to help them with their own problems. It all goes back to what I said above; the techniques we use are the same things I do in my private practice with clients for myriad issues.

Hope the force was with you.

janfrederick's avatar

'twas: http://coasterbuzz.com/Forums/Topic/disneylands-hyper-spazz-mountain-116 :)

"I go out at 3 o' clock for a quart of milk and come home to my son treating his body like an amusement park!" - Estelle Costanza

So...any suggestions to help with a phobia of bees? I so wish I was kidding about that.

I got the impression that some of these kids might end up being coaster freaks.

Really interesting report. They showed that you teach breathing exercises and mantras to calm people down (or at least, as a part of calming them). Is this kind of in the vein of cognitive distortion, challenging distorted thoughts, reframing, etc? What would a common mantra be for someone who has anxiety regarding coasters/bees/eyebrows/whatever?

I feel for the people riding Dragster and Millie. I'm an enthusiast, but when the rides get mega tall like that, I still get nervous until I'm actually riding. You have done a great thing here! Those rides are no joke, and it really does drive home a point about conquering what your brain says can't be done.

I'm STILL working on the nerve to try a Skycoaster.

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Bobbie1951's avatar

Very interesting approach. I'm guessing that a lot of people would have started the class members on something moderate such as Gemini or Blue Streak and gradually worked up to the most extreme rides in the park, but getting them right on MF and TTD obviously worked. As to riding a skycoaster, that would scare me out of my wits but if I happen to meet up with another season pass holder at Great Adventure, I'll challenge my fear and do the Dare Devil Dive (it's considerably cheaper if season pass holders go in together).


OhioStater's avatar

@Bunky666; Here's the thing. The exact same thing I teach these kids and get them to do are the exact same steps one would take to face any fear, to overcome any phobia, and to some extent treat nearly every form of what we call the anxiety disorders. The students get a series of assignments and are essentially a group therapy cohort that gets created. Most recently I used these techniques for a client's airplane phobia which was intensely connected to a fear of enclosed spaces (and a lack of control). I tinker the assignments towards client's individual issue, and voila...personalized approach.

And you're right! I would say about half of the anxiety group ends up becoming complete coaster junkies that day every year. Once you open the proverbial mental door...

The relaxation techniques are really about changing one's brain (seriously) and learning how to purposely relax. The cognitive restructuring (or changing of the thoughts) happens with some very purposeful exercises. It's a bit cumbersome to try and type out here, but if you really want some insight, check this video out, and start at about the 19 minute mark. This more or less gives you a play by play of what happens behind the scenes.

DISCLAIMER: Watching the whole video also cures insomnia

Last edited by OhioStater,
Tommytheduck's avatar

@Bunky - I too am petrified of bees. Okay, not "petrified" because actually, you'll never see me run so fast. Personally, I'm okay with this phobia because they hurt like absolute hell when they sting! And I have a mild allergic reaction that causes swelling and itching for days. Nothing deadly, I'm not going to go all "My Girl" or anything, but very unpleasant. So I'm okay with running away screaming like a 3 year old and not the least bit embarrassed when I do so in public.

I will say that I'm perfectly fine around the regular "honeybee" type. It's the hornets, yellowjackets and wasps that I'm scared of. First of all, they're just scary looking. But second, they're straight up A-holes! I've been buzzed for just standing too close, and been aggressively dive-bombed just for carrying food or drink, as if they want me to drop it.

To bring it on topic, I'm not sure how I could cure my phobia. Not sure I'd sign up for that class anyways, even if it existed. I suppose if they didn't hurt, I'd stop fearing the pain.

birdhombre's avatar

Heh, stupid bees. Let's see how YOU like it.

Tommy, I was stung only once, but it was in the eye. I was afraid of them before that, but after that, I can't even watch shows with bee colonies or anything like that (nice My Girl reference, by the way). And yes, Yellowjackets freak me out the worst. One kept bugging me at Hershey, and I jumped up and ran around the food court trying to get away. I was so embarrassed when the whole food court applauded.

So perhaps I need some courses in conquering fears for sure. Except a roller coaster wouldn't do it. I'd have to skydive or bungee jump or something.

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Also hate bees/wasps/hornets, and like both of you will jump around or quickly walk away to avoid them. When I was like 6 or 7 I was playing in the driveway and opened up the gas tank cover on a rarely used car of a relative's where some hornets had decided to try and make a nest in there. They immediately swarmed my face and I got stung several times before they gave up as I ran back to the house. Ever since then I pretty much walk the other way if I even see a hive or nest. Don't think there's anything that could make me not be afraid of them at this point.

Original BlueStreak64

Aaaand I feel a little sick reading that ^^.

The science of the mind is crazy, isn't it? I wonder if companies have ever considered using a psychologist to assist in designing rides to give them maximum psyche out techniques.

"Look at us spinning out in the madness of a roller coaster" - Dave Matthews Band

Vater's avatar

I stepped on a yellow jacket nest when I was 10 or 12. It sucked, but I'm not sure I can say I fear them; rather, I respect them and stay the hell away if I see any in my vicinity. I've had to spray rather large wasp's nests on my front and back porch pretty much every summer, and as long as I stay far enough away and have an escape plan should I miss and they start to seek me out, I'm good.

I'm not a fan of aggressive, stingy insects of any kind, but it's not really a fear.

slithernoggin's avatar

What Vater said. I've a healthy and I think a rational fear of getting stung :-) so I give wasps and bees wide berth.

What I do have a phobia of is drowning. When I was much younger, I had to lie down in the back seat when in a car going over a bridge or causeway, so that I couldn't see the water. Even today, driving across the Cedar Point causeway, for example, it's always in the back of my mind: a death by drowning is just yards away.

And don't even try to get me into a rowboat.

Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

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