Arachnaphobia online

During lockdown, Dr Ruth Van der Hallen wanted to continue her cognitive and behavioural practical online. While students are normally sent on a spider hunt and then exposed to their catches, they now worked online. With surprising results! 

A teaching method that is suitable for clinical courses, but also for subjects involving empathy in the learning process.

Activity goal
Practice skills
In class
> 60 minutes
Group size

MS Teams, Zoom, Mentimeter

This step-by-step plan is based on a clinical setting under the supervision of an expert. In Variations, tips & tricks, you will find ideas for using this teaching method more widely.

Step 1

Ask students to catch a spider before the class and keep it alive in a glass jar. Students who cannot do this themselves are told to ask someone else to catch a spider for them. 

Step 2

Prepare the video material and decide how you will measure the anxiety/impact of the exposure. Will you leave it to the students to write in the chat, or will you use Mentimeter so that you can check the degree of anxiety/impact afterwards? Examples are provided in the Tips & tricks below.

Step 3

Introduce the lecture, discuss what exposure therapy is, the importance of empathy in a role (in this case in that of the client). Explain what you expect from the students, describe the exposure process and how they can indicate how anxious they are. Make it clear that students may give each other feedback, so long as it is constructive. See also the example below under Tips & tricks.

Step 4

Ask students to show the others their catches. If people don't dare, you can ask them to point their camera at it instead of picking up the jar. 

Step 5

Start the first part of the video (exposure level 1, here you see a spider walking in a glass dish) and stop it to assess the impact/anxiety among students.

Step 6

 Students share their score between 1-10 in the chat or via Mentimeter. Discuss the anxiety that students show and make it explicit; that is part of the exercise. If the score is still high among several students, repeat the same part of the video until everyone's anxiety level has fallen and you can move on to the next part of the video. Repeat this step until you reach the final level of exposure. 

Step 7

Divide students who are not very anxious into groups of 3 and get them to do the same steps online with their own spider. Tell them to practice the therapeutic role among each other. Save time at the end of the session to share experiences with the whole group and ask the students to let the spider go at the end.


This teaching method has been added to teachEUR by Dr Ruth Van der Hallen, assistant professor at ESSB and private psychologist. She always did this practical on campus, but during lockdown she wanted to experiment with this online form. She was surprised at the effectiveness of doing this session via the laptop and the significant power of empathy for dealing with anxiety. Afterwards, students said that they had found it interesting and that the practical had had a big impact on how they looked at spiders themselves.


The video that Ruth uses in her online exposure therapy session shows a glass dish filmed from above with a large spider in it. The viewer looks at the spider through the client's eyes. At first, you see the spider moving in the dish. The second phase is that the spider is guided using a pen held by the client. In the third phase, the client uses their finger to guide the spider in a certain direction. In phase four, the therapist lets the spider walk over their hands and sometimes the client puts their hand in between. In the final phase, the spider walks over the client's hands. 

Please note that the type of exposure therapy for phobias in this example can only be used in education by experienced experts who are the main therapist during the class. 

Variation 1

This teaching method can be used in several clinical courses but can also be used in video or photo material that is impressive. How does the material affect you, what do you feel, what do you think? 

Variation 2

This teaching method can also be used in (TV) interviews. Get students to adopt the role of the interviewer or the interviewee and talk to each other in that role. 

Variation 3

In forensic psychology or in a legal setting, you can work with video material of an offender/suspect/client. Ask students to adopt that role and embark on a discussion from that position. 

Tip 1

If you ask students to adopt a certain role, you must invest time, space and energy in discussing the impact of the exercise. Other students observe that and are involved in the therapeutic process. 

Tip 2

If you have a large group, divide it into subgroups first. Work with groups of 10-12 students. 

Consider the tools and materials mentioned here as suggestions. In many cases it’s possible to use alternative tools. Please turn to the Learning & Innovation team of your faculty (EUR or Erasmus MC) first to see which online and offline tools are available and how to apply them. 

Use MS Teams or Zoom for your online meeting. Students can share their impact score in the chat or you could use Mentimeter to register students' impact scores. At the end of class you can easily analyse and explain how these scores change during the exposure session. 

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