Experiencing the ‘life-changing’ Drusillas spider phobia course in Alfriston

Herald reporter India Wentworth went to check out the spider phobia course at Drusillas Zoo Park in Alfriston this week.

Angela Hale the spider expert at Drusillas Park passes Rosie the tarantula to journalist India Wentworth (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-210112-192341008
Angela Hale the spider expert at Drusillas Park passes Rosie the tarantula to journalist India Wentworth (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-210112-192341008

Drusillas has been running the spider phobia course for seven years which sees arachnophobes facing their fears, learning ways to cope with anxiety around spiders, and bravely handling several eight-legged creatures, including tarantulas and the false widow spider.

A spokesperson for the park said the course has a 100 per cent success rate with spider experts calming the fears of arachnophobes once and for all.

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Angela Hale, resident spider expert and committee member of The British Tarantula Society, runs the course alongside her husband Ray Hale. The pair recently joined Ray Mears on national television to talk about false widows.

Angela Hale is the spider expert at Drusillas Park (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-210112-192403008

Angela said, “I’ve always liked insects and spiders from a young age. At school my drawings and painting included tarantulas.

“When I got married, my husband was into the same thing, so we started keeping a tarantula one day and it became an obsession.”

She said the normal reaction people have on the course is to cry, but by the end ‘it’s a relief for many that they’ve done it’.

The main phobia people have is of house spiders and the four-hour course ends with the opportunity to hold a tarantula.

Rosie is a 15-year-old tarantula spider Drusillas Park (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-210112-192352008

Angela said, “The main fear is when spiders come into your territory and it’s that that people get over.

“You’re never born with a phobia, it’s a learned fear. It can be changed because it’s learned. Once we change their mindset and they understand spiders and know there’s nothing to fear, there’s no fear at the end of the course.

“For us, education is the key. It’s about breaking down the mental barriers your brain has built up, and taking control of your fears. Once our participants realise that there is simply nothing to fear, they begin to accept that their phobia has gone and they can begin to enjoy life.”

Gemma Marsh, who completed the course in September, said, “I cannot recommend this highly enough! Angela and Ray were so brilliant, informative, reassuring and adapted their approach for everyone on the course for their level of worries and concerns.

“I went in thinking there was no way I would come away feeling differently about spiders and now feel like I can catch them with my hands! Feel like I’ve wasted 30+ years worrying! Life-changing!”

I went along to the course on Tuesday (November 30) and although I wouldn’t say I have a fear of spiders due to growing up in a farmhouse where you see all sorts, the idea of holding a big hairy tarantula was definitely out of the ordinary for a Tuesday afternoon.

When I got there Angela was very welcoming and had a very calming manner as she introduced me to 15-year-old tarantula Rosie.

After briefing me on how to safely hold Rosie, I took the plunge and Angela handed her over.

Once you remember they’re more scared of you than you are of them, it’s absolutely fine. Rosie was very gentle as she walked between my hands, and after a while I handed her back to Angela.

If you’re thinking about facing your fear Angela said, “Do it. It’s a really good feeling to get over a phobia. It’s a good feeling to let people get over their phobia. It’s a very good Christmas present and really unusual to get someone.”

Drusillas is offering Christmas gift vouchers for its spider phobia course. For more information go to https://www.drusillas.co.uk/unusual-gift-ideas

Part of my afternoon also included getting to see Drusillas in the lead up to Christmas. There’s lots of baby animals around – the noisy baby otter was definitely my favourite. There’s also plenty of festive lights and children can visit Santa in his grotto.

Spark is a new interactive sensory play area which opened this month. It’s open for weekends from now (Thursday, December 2) and daily from December 11. For more information go to: https://www.drusillas.co.uk/