Needle therapy groups will be held at the beginning of November. Photo: Pexels/Stock
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Centre for Psychological Services and Research will hold needle phobia therapy group for anyone afraid of receiving COVID-19 vaccination

The University of Ottawa’s Centre for Psychological Services and Research (CPSR), has introduced a new initiative aiming to help members of the Ottawa community overcome their fear of needles.

Andrea Ashbough, associate professor in the school of psychology and director of the CPSR, said the idea for the initiative came in August, when the vaccination rate was slowing down in Ottawa.

“There was a lot of concern about, if we don’t get the numbers high enough, we’re not going to hit herd immunity, especially with the Delta variant,” said Ashbough. “So we just got thinking about how we might be able to contribute to this, or continue to help boost the numbers.” 

The initiative will offer a free group therapy event during the month of November for people in Ottawa who have a fear of needles, and as a result, have not yet received their COVID-19 vaccinations. The event will be held at the Minto Sports Complex with the hope participants will be able to go and get their vaccination. 

Ashbough said there are many people that may want to get the vaccine but are having difficulty doing so due to their fear of needles and injections.

“As psychologists, we’re really well placed to be able to help, we have very effective treatments that can be done briefly, fairly quickly… we thought that by organizing this group, we might be able to get some additional people vaccinated,” said Ashbough.

Research conducted by CPSR found that close to 10 per cent of people who are unvaccinated haven’t received the vaccine because of a fear of needles. Ashbough says that while it seems like a small percentage, it’s still a large group of people in Ottawa who could potentially be encouraged to get their vaccine through an initiative such as the therapy group. 

Once the centre gained the support of Ottawa Public Health, they were able to move forward with their plans for the event.

We’re going to run one set of groups to start off with, so each group will have somewhere between 10 to 12 participants … We have adult groups and groups for adolescents, so 12 to 17. So anybody who is eligible to get vaccinated in the Ottawa area and hasn’t done so can participate in the groups,” Ashbough shared.

The therapy group will be about three hours long, and will begin with graduated exposure therapy, followed by applied muscle tension. The former will give participants the opportunity to confront their fears. The latter will have participants flexing the muscles on their arm where they plan on getting the needle, and allow blood to rush to that area of the body.

“We’ll be starting the group by looking at pictures of people getting injections, we’ll move on to videos, we will have needle paraphernalia, so alcohol, swabs, needles and things like that, that people will be able to interact with and look at and touch.” said Ashbough.

 “Oftentimes, people who have needle fears also have a fear of blood. So one part of the treatment is to teach a skill called applied muscle tension to help reduce the risk of fainting.” 

Ashbough said that the key to making this successful is promotion and getting the word out so people have a chance to face their fears, and in doing so, make our community safer.

In a recent Instagram story poll, the Fulcrum asked students if they have a fear of needles. 31 per cent of students that responded voted yes. While the event is being held with COVID-19 vaccinations in mind, it might also help anyone who has a general fear of needles, whether you’ve gotten your vaccine or not.

English therapy groups will be held on Nov. 6, French groups will be held on Nov. 13. Adult groups will be from 9:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M., and adolescent groups will be from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. Depending on the response from the Ottawa community, the CPSR might extend the service to be offered more frequently.

If you would like to participate or learn more about the event, visit the CPSR web page