Archive for Sunday, July 22, 1990


July 22, 1990


A class to help people overcome their of flying didn't get off the ground Saturday.

But that didn't surprise the teacher, Walt Gunn, a professor at the Kansas University Medical Center.

Gunn, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and a retired TWA pilot, leads monthly aerophobia clinics at the Kansas City, Kan., campus.

This month's class was scheduled for Saturday, but the five pre-registered individuals failed to show.

Gunn said that's not unusual for people who suffer from irrational fears.

"Procrastination is their biggest problem," he said. "They find any way to avoid. As long as they avoid anything they fear, they will never overcome it."

DURING HIS daylong clinics, Gunn teaches self-induced relaxation and distraction methods to help aerophobics concentrate on topics other than their fear. He tells students that the body's reaction to fear is reflexive and can result in shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate, sweating, and dizziness. To curb these symptoms and help the body calm down, he suggests that students "smile, breathe and relax."

"Breathing deeply will tell the heart it doesn't have to pound so hard because the brain is already getting enough oxygen," Gunn said. "It's like the domino effect."

Gunn also focuses on systematic desensitization, a gradual process of overcoming the fear of flying.

"Fear is learned and that which is learned can be unlearned," he said.

"We start by saying go to an airport as if you're going on a flight. Get a drink, eat a meal, just sit there and watch people," he said. "Next, take a short flight somewhere.

"Eventually, you can take longer flights and then longer flights. They may never be ecstatic about flying, but at least they'll fly."

THE MYSTERY surrounding technological aspects of flight contributes to the aerophobic's fear, Gunn said. "I give them the shortest course in aerodynamics known to man," he said. "It helps them overcome the mystery of how the plane gets up."

The last step of the clinic's program involves a trip to the TWA overhaul base at Kansas City International Airport, where students climb aboard a plane and simulate a flight.

"They get to see it, touch it, smell it, feel it, hear it get all the senses involved," Gunn said. "They can sit in the pilot's seat and touch the controls."

Gunn, the author of "The Joy of Flying: Overcoming the Fear," has instructed more than 300 people in clinics over the last five years. "My criteria for saying it was a success is that they undergo some improvement that makes them ultimately fly," he said.

About four out of five graduates of the clinic eventually take a flight and about 20 percent learn to enjoy the experience, he said.

The next clinic is scheduled for Aug. 18. Advance registration is required and there is a fee.

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