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Driving Phobia

Question:

I had only just learnt to drive when I had two accidents in two weeks (neither my fault) now I really hate to drive and just feel bad about it. This is a problem – I really need to drive! How can I start to feel good about driving again, when I am yet to feel truly competent and am now terrified of the people out there that have a license?

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Answer:

You may have developed an fear (or in scientific speak: a phobia) of driving. Phobias are learned fears that are greater than is warranted by the inherent dangerousness of the feared thing. Some people are afraid of public speaking, others are afraid of closed spaces, and some are afraid of driving cars. You don’t say how bad your accidents were, but I can imagine that they may have been disturbing enough to convince you that driving is a very dangerous thing to do. While driving is indeed a dangerous thing to do, and something to be approached with respect, it is uncommon for experienced drivers to get into accidents as frequently as you have in the past. I wonder if your accidents didn’t have more to do with random factors, or your inexperience behind the wheel rather than with the actual day to day dangerousness of driving. I’ll bet that you could learn to drive safely and feel good about it given enough practice.

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p>In the meantime, your fear of driving is interfering with your life. My advice is to make an appointment with a cognitive behaviorally oriented clinical psychologist in your area (ask for this orientation by name) who can step you through a behavioral phobia protocol. Phobia of the simple type you may have is very well understood and relatively easy to treat. One tried and true method for treating phobia involves what is called systematic desensitization. In systematic desensitization, your doctor teaches you a method to relax yourself. Next, the two of you create a list of ‘feared things to do’ starting with the thing that scares you the most (driving) and working down to things that don’t scare you too much at all. With the guidance of your doctor, you would then vividly imagine yourself doing your least feared thing to do while maintaining yourself in a state of relaxation. The pairing of relaxation with the thing you are afraid of decreases your fear and desire to escape. You thus hang around long enough with the thing you’re imagining to realize that there is less danger there than you thought. You repeat this procedure at each level of your feared things list until you’ve reached your top fear (driving). Each level of fear is handled in the same way. This method and a few others are known to work very well.

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