Wednesday 19 December 2018

'Fear of clowns on the rise in Ireland as Stephen King's 'It' makes comeback' - psychologist

An ad for Stephen King's IT
An ad for Stephen King's IT
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

An Irish hypnosis clinic is experiencing a surge in the number of people requesting help to conquer their coulrophobia – or fear of clowns – with the release of the Stephen King film “It” this month.

Up to 20 people have contacted the D4 Clinic in the past two days alone, according to psychologist Jason O’Callaghan.

Pennywise the clown is about to give people the heebie-jeebies once again in the remake, a full 27 years after Tim Curry terrified audiences.

“In recent weeks we’ve seen an upsurge in people ringing us about clowns. To be honest, it’s not something we’d do, the fear of clowns, maybe once a year, and then it came to us that the remake of ‘It’ the movie is coming out. There is a huge amount of promo, online ads, ads on buses out there now.”

“Normally with a phobia, what people do is they avoid the situation. With the fear of clowns, people would normally avoid them, however with the imagery everywhere it’s now something that people can’t avoid.”

“People say it’s embarrassing in front of my friends and families and I want it to go away, so they come to us looking for help.”

However, experts say full-blown phobia of clowns (or coulrophobia) is a relatively rare and new phenomenon. It's not listed as an official phobia by the World Health Organisation.

Dena Rabinowitz, a psychologist in New York who specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders and phobias, told Business Insider: "Well if you just don't like clowns, then you really don't need to do anything about it. but there's a small subset of people who really are terrified of clowns in that goes into the category of a phobia lots of people have phobias and just because you have a phobia doesn't mean you need treatment."

"When you need to seek treatment for a phobia is when it interferes with your daily life. If you go screaming from a theater because there might be a clown that shows up or you can't go into town because there's a circus, then you really need to seek treatment."

But other experts believe the fear is real, and is caused by not knowing who lies behind the mask of make-up.

O'Callaghan admits: “It’s quite unusual for us. It’s people’s primitive flight or fright response kicking in, and people don’t expect it to happen. It’s not common place.”

“It’s not children at all. It tends to develop in childhood. People would get it from watching something that traumatised them like a movie when they were young, or it’s something that they learned from an adult when they were young.”

“They’re saying they’re having anxiety or panic attacks. Normally with fears and phobias you get panic attacks, but you don’t know why it happens. It just happens.”

“Because the advertising is so strong, it’s on Facebook, it’s everywhere, people are getting a bit frantic over it.”

Back when Stephen King’s clown terrorised young children in Derry, Maine, in the two part TV series “It”, the impact was wide-reaching.

Now, O’Callaghan said he’s received correspondence from as far away as Argentina for information about the online course.

“We specialise in clinical hypnosis for weight loss and smoking primarily, and then other phobias, like fear of spiders, fear of flying etc.”

“It’s a learned response - that’s the defintion of a phobia, a learned response.”

“We’ve put together a free online clinical therapy session because people don’t tend to want to come into the clinic or talk about it because they’re ashamed of it. We find the same with alcohol, people don’t want to admit it.”

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