Ask An Expert: Inside The Phobia-Busting Therapy Celebs Love

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Sylvain Gaboury/PMC

No matter how logical you are, you probably have at least one totally irrational yet insanely unnerving phobia — so I caught up a woman who created a therapy to reduce phobias and is working wonders for her celebrity clients crippled with irrational fears — and not the fun, scary movie kind.

For me, I’m afraid of cockroaches. Living in New York City, I’ve seen my fair share, and my response is… well honestly, it’s something beyond fear. It’s sheer uncut TERROR. I won’t even say the word out loud because I feel like it summons them, like they KNOW. I said once that I would rather find a burglar in my house than a roach, because at least I can reason with the burglar and I know what it wants. What does a bug want? WHO EVEN KNOWS? JUST PURE MAYHEM! I know they can’t hurt me (I do not, however, believe that they are more afraid of me) and I don’t even know where this hysteria came from but boy oh boy, it’s here.

So, when a friend told me about a lady named Kalliope Barlis, who’s made a living quelling irrationally-addled minds through workshops and books, I have to say, I was skeptical. I wondered if she was basically a modern day snake-oil salesman promising quick fixes. Or worse, she’d use hokey, cruise ship-type hypnosis that would have an arachnophobe kissing up to a tarantula… until she snapped her fingers.

But actually, she’s the real deal: Kalliope is a best-selling author with 20 years of licensed Neuro-Linguistic Programming experienced in NYC. She even does in-house trainings for Fortune 500 companies.

kalliope barlis phobia relief book

And did I mention that celebs trust her with their inner-most anxieties? During a recent event in NYC, she helped Real Housewives of New Jersey stars Dolores Catania open up about her fear of flying, while costar Teresa Giudice confessed to a crippling fear of big dogs. I assumed their biggest fear would be something like “living room without a bedazzled fleur-de-lis,” or “wearing flats to a formal occasion.” Go figure!

Kalliope managed to ease Teresa’s anxiousness about dogs by zeroing in on barks, since it’s loud and unexpected. Once Teresa was able to identify that it was the noise and the randomness of the bark — versus the potential danger of the dog — she said she could learn to feel more at ease around dogs larger than the little lap pups she owns.

Dolores seemed stunned. “Teresa, this is so good for us!” she marveled.

Dolores Catania, Teresa Giudice and Kalliope Barlis attend Phobia Relief Day in New York. (Photo

Sylvain Gaboury/PMC

But okay: maybe dogs are easy enough to demystify, but what about the rest of us who are afraid of totally crazy things (NOT THAT IT’S CRAZY TO FEAR ROACHES BECAUSE WE CAN ALL AGREE THEY ARE SENT FROM HELL) and don’t know how to stop our spiral once it starts.

“Phobias are unreasonable uncontrollable irrational fears,” she told me. “They are different from fears that protect our safety because we need to fear what might put us in harm’s way. People with phobias prevent themselves from living their life fully in the absence of any threat and while in the presence of pleasure.

I sat down with Kalliope to get her top 5 tips on busting a phobia once and for all!

Is it really a phobia? The first question I ask my clients is, “This situation or thing you fear, is it posing a threat to your safety or well-being?” If they are safe, and the fear is preventing them from living their life fully, then it’s a phobia. That’s when to proceed with changing how they feel. Some fears are worth keeping because they genuinely protect us. Common sense helps decide the difference.

Remember The Two Fears: Researchers have established that we are born with only two fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises; the rest are learned. It’s valuable to remember this when overcoming a phobia because what you fear unreasonably can be easily broken just like any other bad habit.

It’s Just a Thought: Thought has structure that motivates what we do. When we think happy thoughts, the rest will follow. In moments when your phobia begins to creep into your mind, try instead to imagine yourself during one of the happiest moments of your life, and let the feeling resonate with you.

Shrink the Fear: Some of the ideas that cause “phobic” responses are just that: ideas. Try this exercise — imagine the idea of your phobia, and shrink it down to the size of a tiny coin. When the size of the idea shrinks, it’s no longer as overwhelming, helping to change how someone reacts.

Build Up Your Best Response: After successfully shrinking the idea, another response needs to be created in order to make sure the change remains. Imagine yourself in a scenario where you’re in the presence of what triggered what you used to fear, but instead of feeling the fear that you once felt, see yourself as relaxed, or appropriately responding to the situation.

Lauren Wirkus, Sonja Morgan, Teresa Giudice, FoodGod Jonathan Cheban, Kalliope Barlis, Vicki Gunvalson, Stephen McGee and Dolores Catania attend Phobia Relief Day

Sylvain Gaboury/PMC

The more scenarios that you can picture yourself in — and, most importantly — picture yourself handling it in a healthy way, the better. So while imagining bugs all over your body may be just as bad as it actually happening, it builds up that tolerance so that if it does happen, you’ll have been down this road before, in a way, and feel more equipped to handle it.

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