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Q: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   9 Comments )
Subject: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
Category: Health
Asked by: ones_creative_mind-ga
List Price: $15.00
Posted: 29 Jun 2006 15:57 PDT
Expires: 29 Jul 2006 15:57 PDT
Question ID: 742164
Hi. I'm really rather terrified of heights and yet have decided on a
450ft abseil in about two weeks. I have tried to get used to the
height by going on the London Eye a few times. I've been on twice now
and the second time I stood up but felt - not dizzy - but really
unsafe on my feet. Is this normal and is it realistic to think that if
I force myself to stand up for the whole ride on the London eye I will
be safe enough to do the abseil. Or am I putting myself at actual
risk. I've never felt the urge to jump at great heights,  I've just
had the urge to grab hold of absoltely everything to feel safe.
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
Answered By: eiffel-ga on 30 Jun 2006 05:30 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi ones_creative_mind-ga,

Your interesting question touches on a number of related issues:


In your comment you suggested that this is a sponsored abseil
organised by a charity. These events are normally very well run, with
experienced instructors who understand that many of the people will be
abseiling for the first time, and many of them will be terrified. They
will be used to coping with that.

The abseil itself will employ a system that allows the instructor to
control the speed of your descent, independent of your own ability to
control your own speed.

Abseiling is tremendously fun, and afterwards you will have a glowing
sense of pride and accomplishment as you point to the building (I
assume it's a building you'll be abseiling off) and tell others that
you have abseiled down it. I've done over a hundred abseils, and
enjoyed every one.

But the hardest thing is the first step over the edge. Naturally, your
body tells you not to leave firm ground, so it's normal to be anxious
at this point. Once you are on the rope you will discover that by
leaning back it will push your feet onto the vertical surface, and you
can "walk" down whilst the rope slides through the mechanism at a
controlled speed.

By the way, you referred in one of your comments to "jumping off" a
building. Although that phrase is commonly used, you won't be doing
that on a charity abseil! You'll probably be leaning outwards gently
until the rope takes your weight, then leaning our a little more until
you are stable enough to shuffle your feet onto the vertical face,
then "walking" downwards as the rope moves through the mechanism
attached to your harness. Then, if you want to, you can push out and
slide down larger distances at a time.

Here's a great description of a charity abseil by a BBC reporter:

  "I was told to lean backwards over the ledge that towers 200
   feet over the city below.

  "Having forgotten just about all of my extensive training,
   I stepped up onto the ledge, turned around and looked down.
   I could see matchbox-sized cars and buses and spectators
   the size of ants.

  "It's difficult to describe the feeling you get at this stage.
   Breathing becomes heavy and every movement you make is definite.
  "Once the trainer had prized my sweaty palms from his coat
   lapels, I was on my way down!

  "Once I had taken a few short bounces, my confidence began to
   rise and there was no stopping me."

The full story is here:

   "BBC Devon - Abseiling for Charity"

You may be interested in the following web page. It's by an
organization that runs charity abseils. It describes how they organize
the event, and offers copies of the risk assessment for each event in
advance for those who are interested:

   Charity Abseil Events UK

The above operators follow the British Mountaineering Council
guidelines for Charity Abseils:


I'd have to say "no". The London Eye capsules, being surrounded by
curved glass and without much in the way of horizontal reference
points, are designed for dramatic effect, and that's what you'll get.
If you watch for a while, you'll see that plenty of other people sit
down during the ride.


No. A first-time abseil is likely, if anything, to reinforce an
association between heights and anxiety.


I realise you didn't explicitly ask this in your question, but
possibly it's in the subtext. Fear of heights (acrophobia) is of
course a perfectly normal and useful survival mechanism. It only
becomes a problem if the fear is so extreme that it stops you from
doing things that are "normal" in the modern world such as travelling
over bridges, going upstairs in multi-floor buildings, etc.

People can learn to become comfortable with most things, and what it
takes is repeated association of the stimulus (height in this case)
with positive things (such as a feeling of calmness, or some kind of

A therapist might, for example, accompany a patient to a high place.
The therapist would foster a calm, reassuring, secure atmosphere.
Progressively, over time, the patient would become less afraid of the

  "...graded exposure is a common and effective treatment
   for acrophobia. For example, if a patient is afraid of
   heights, therapy sessions might begin by having the patient
   look through a third floor window with the therapist
   present. In subsequent sessions, the patient might move
   up to a window on the tenth floor. Other common locations
   for in vivo therapy are outside stairways, balconies,
   bridges, and elevators."
   Virtual Environments for treating the Fear of Heights

The above quote is from an abstract for a report on the use of
computer simulations instead of real-life ("in vivo") experiences to
reduce fear of heights:

  "The authors designed a number of virtual height situations
   to correspond to the types used for in vivo stimuli. The
   study yielded remarkable results, in particular, the sense
   of presence experienced by subjects. Subjects experienced
   a range of physical anxiety symptoms consistent with the
   apparent threat they encountered. Subject responses were
   also apparently modified, as evidenced by the decrease in
   anxiety, avoidance, and negative attitudes toward heights."

In addition to real-life de-sensitisation and computer-simulated
de-sensitisation, some people use hypnotherapy, which involves
suggestions made during a state of deep relaxation. Here is an example
of a self-help program along these lines. Note that I am not endorsing
this program, just giving it an an example of what is offered:

   "Overcome Fear of Heights | Hypnosis Downloads"

Finally, you may find this "Self-help Brochure" from the Counseling
Center of the University of Illinois to be useful:

   "Understanding and Treating Anxiety"

I trust you find this answer useful. Feel free to use the "Request
Clarification" feature if I have not addressed your question fully.


Google Search Strategy:

"fear of heights" curing OR treating

abseiling charity

"london eye" "fear OR afraid of heights"

ones_creative_mind-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
thanks a lot :)

Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: steph53-ga on 29 Jun 2006 16:08 PDT
Whats an abseil????

Myself, I'm terrfied of enclosed spaces ( Claustrophobic).

I could never imagine myself purposely going into an elevator or a
small, windowless room.

Good luck!

Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: ones_creative_mind-ga on 29 Jun 2006 16:11 PDT
An abseil is when you are crazy enough to 'walk' down the outside of a
tall building, cliff etc attached to a harness by jumping of/on the
side of the building using your feet.

Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: pinkfreud-ga on 29 Jun 2006 16:12 PDT
If you are seriously seeking to deal with a fear of heights, I suggest
that you find a phobia clinic or support group. The notion that
deliberately exposing oneself to the feared thing will magically make
the phobia go away is false. Effective phobia therapy is gradual and
takes place over long periods of time.
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: ones_creative_mind-ga on 29 Jun 2006 16:18 PDT
Thanks for your comment pinkfreud. Its appreciated. I know that my
phobia will not magically disappear, I still expect to be terrified on
the day. i just want to be at the stage where I can manage my fear
safely and just get down the building. It's for charity and I have
already raised quite a lot of money.
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: myoarin-ga on 29 Jun 2006 18:18 PDT
Well, if you must do it, take Pink's advice and start gradually by
training before the big event:  practice the technique by starting at
the lowest level possible, gaining trust in the harness and confidence
in your control of the rope ("Seil" to Steph  - German: "Abseilen")
and your feet, and then move to a higher level.
I  - no mountain climber -  understand that it is important to learn
to lean back and resist the urge to cling to the rope, most of us
feeling more comfortable (safer) when we have our head up and body
If you have trouble doing this, you can still back out.  Pity about
the charity, but your own mental and physical health are more
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: elids-ga on 29 Jun 2006 21:16 PDT
steph53 & ones_creative_mind you two may find this article as if
written with you in mind.


From New Scientist

Computer games can treat phobias

    * 14:50 20 October 2003
    * news service
    * Will Knight

Popular computer games like Half-Life and Unreal Tournament could
provide a cheap and effective treatment for people with debilitating
phobias, say Canadian computer scientists.

Specially made virtual reality (VR) equipment is already used to treat
certain types of phobia. Exposing patients to the source of their
pathological fear within this controlled and safe environment can be
an effective therapy.

But Patrice Renaud and colleagues at the University of Quebec in
Canada took the simpler approach of customising existing games to
create VR worlds for a range of phobias. Tests with phobic patients
showed that the games stimulated a response that could be used to
perform controlled treatment.

The researchers suggest that computer games might, therefore, be a
cheap and easy-to-use form of VR treatment. The whole cost of the
software and hardware comes to a few hundred dollars rather than many
thousands, they say. The games also provide highly realistic graphics
and can be easily adapted to an individual patient's particular fears.

Exposure therapy

"The effectiveness of the inexpensive hardware and software used in
this study shows that VR technology is sufficiently advanced for VR
exposure therapy to move into the clinical mainstream," they write in
a paper published in the October edition of the journal
CyberPsychology and Behaviour.

Games often have software tools that players can use to build new
levels or custom tournaments. The researchers used these to construct
their phobia-fighting virtual environments. Off-the-shelf head-mounted
displays and head-tracking sensors were used to create a more
immersive experience for each patient.

Within Half-Life, scenes containing various different types of spider
were built to treat people with arachnophobia. Unreal Tournament was
used to make environments for those with a fear of heights or confined

"Treating claustrophobia this way is most interesting," says Anthony
Speed, a researcher specialising virtual reality phobia therapies at
University College London. He says others have shown that it is
relatively simple to treat a fear of heights and spiders using a VR
approach, but more costly and complex walk-in virtual reality
equipment is normally needed to treat a fear of confined spaces.

"The main thing is that graphics chips have become so powerful that
anyone can make these virtual worlds," Speed told New Scientist.

Journal reference: CyberPsychology and Behaviour (vol 6, p 467)


you guys can check out Unreal Tournament at

Good luck!
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: probonopublico-ga on 29 Jun 2006 22:06 PDT
Please don't do it!

Go to a clinic, as suggested.
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: ones_creative_mind-ga on 30 Jun 2006 01:00 PDT
Hi again
Thanks everyone for your replies so far.  I would like to clarify that
i'm not planning to do this 'blind' I am exposing myself to heights in
the meantime in preparation for the big event. I like the suggestion
of training beforehand and will look into that.
I know that i can back out and, if on the day its just too much, that
it precisely what I will do. My question is - regardless of my fear -
is it actually safe for me to try?
I have read that people have overcome their fear of heights by doing
stunts like this. And I have been really high before - went to the
86th floor of the Empire State Building once. It was a very
uncomfortable experience but I did survive.
Any further comments much appreciated if you have them.
Subject: Re: Abseiling to cure fear of heights. Am I mad?
From: irlandes-ga on 01 Jul 2006 16:34 PDT

When I first ran across the URL, as linked in Avoidant Personality
pages, I thought, what a scam. To my surprise, he gives you the manual
free download. My son, who is the Avoidant and is in medical school, I
am an ex-, read the manual. He had enough problem figuring out how
hard and how fast, that I recommend spending the $60 for the videos.
If it doesn't work it's less than an hour therapy, which almost always
doesn't work.

Craig claims it works much like accupuncture, but no needles, just tap
those energy points.

My son even sounds different talking over the phone than he has in years.

He showed the free manual to a fellow student, who says it has
definitely helped him deal with the stress of med school.

Craig claims the technique has cured PTSD sufferers in one day. Also
fear of heights and claustrophobia.

The point is, it isn't like therapy where you work for months and
years with no gains. You know right away if it works or not.

I have posted this on the AVP lists, and so far no one has even read
the free manual.  Seems too good to be true.

Note that I have no connection with emofree, and urge those who read
it to read carefully and make up your own mind as to its value.

My son had no benefit at first, until he finally realized he wasn't
tapping hard enough or fast enough.

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