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1 October 2015

Don’t go in the water! Why Jaws still causes panic attacks

It was 40 years this summer since Jaws was unleashed on an unsuspecting public – and millions of us have been worried about going into the sea ever since. If you have a winter holiday booked, there’s a good chance you’ll be heading somewhere tropical, where a fear of sharks – if you have one – is likely to be far more acute than when splashing on the beach in Brighton.

For most people, fear of sharks is just a minor thing – more of a nagging doubt as they bob around in the ocean and certainly not a major source of work for any hypnotherapist in London! But for some people it’s a much bigger deal – and I was reminded of just how scary sharks are when they turned up as dino-bait in this year’s Jurassic World film. When that fear truly stops you going into the water even to paddle, it’s fair to say it has well and truly got a grip of you.

Masterpiece of suspense

I think the reason that Jaws continues to hold sway over so many people is twofold: not only was it a masterpiece of suspense, painting the shallows as a dark and deadly place where horrible things lurk, it implanted into people’s minds such ideas as ‘sharks can climb onto boats’, ‘sharks take things personally’ and ‘sharks absolutely love to eat humans’. I once read that Scuba diving groups around the world saw a huge slump in new members for years afterwards, and I wasn’t surprised.

Statistically, being scared of sharks makes little sense. Considering the billions of people who swim in the sea every year, the number of attacks are tiny. But just like when people have panic attacks at the thought of flying or when thinking about snakes or spiders, the numbers offer little comfort. You’ll know exactly what I’m talking about if this is applicable to you.

What’s interesting is that when sharks do strike, the chances of the injuries being fatal decrease with every passing year as medical science advances. According to, when someone was bitten at the start of the 20th century the fatality rate was 40-50 per cent; today it is down to 10 per cent. Once again, however, this will do little to get people worried about sharks back into the sea: just because surfer Mick Fanning got lucky a few months ago when he punched a shark that was advancing on him, it doesn’t mean that people with a fear of sharks will feel any more inclined to take a dip!

Numerous animal phobias

Fear of sharks falls under the category of zoophobia – fear of a certain kind of animal. The most common animals that people fear are dogs and spiders, fear of sharks being much less prevalent because so few of us need to put ourselves in an environment where sharks have a chance of being present.

As with all phobias, hypnotherapy treatment begins with an understanding of the root cause of the problem. There’s a very good chance that a film like Jaws is to blame for a shark phobia, though a scary encounter with a big fish, open water or, indeed, an actual shark could certainly be a trigger.

When people come to see us with an animal phobia – infinitely more likely to be a fear of dogs, spiders, snakes or mice than sharks – we help them to remove their fear of the animal once and for all. With a suite of powerful techniques at our disposal, we can help former dog-worriers feel OK about walking past the local kennels; we can help people scared of spiders to stop worrying about seeing one. And for anyone who really does have a fear of sharks, we can help them believe that they really don’t need a bigger boat after all…

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