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  • Writer's pictureRobert Davies

Walter's Phobia: Well Water Part 1

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

Walter had a shock as a young man. He was traumatized by the finding of what looked like cancer. It wasn't. However, Walter remained anxious about his health ending up with a phobias about contamination.

Walter’s Well Water

Robert Davies (C) 2019

“Lets see … from what I am hearing … you had a shock in second year university. There was a test that confirmed you had a growth that could be cancerous. And it was an extremely anxious time for you. Is that what you have been telling me, Walter?”

“Yes. That’s it. It seemed as if I just couldn’t handle thinking I might be dying?”

“But, obviously, you didn’t.”

“No, of course, I’m still here,” smiled Walter. “There was no cancer. There was a minor operation to cut out the growth. That was it. It was over.”

“But, you are really telling me that it wasn’t over. You kept on thinking about dying. Whereas before, you hadn’t even thought of the possibility of dying. Now, the cancer-threat episode seemed like a close shave, and you couldn’t get it out of your head. Right?”

“That’s right. I got more and more anxious. Finally, I had to check myself into the hospital. I was on some medication for a while, and I received some counselling. Then I continued my studies.”

“So, since then you have been getting periodic panic attacks and you have been suffering with phobias. By the way, what kind of phobias?”

“Well, the latest is the water.”

“Like oceans and lakes?”

“Drinking water. The water in our well.” “Your well water? You are worried about your well water. Why?”

“Well, Bob, I believe it is contaminated.”

“Let’s check the facts. Did you get someone to test it? Are your family members and you getting sick?” “No, no sickness. The Health Authority found the water to be excellent.”

“That’s good news. But you still have a phobia about its being contaminated?”

“Yes, I drink bottled water, wash my clothes in town, shower at a friend's house and avoid all possible contact with the well water.” “Why?”

“It might be contaminated. I know it sounds crazy, but there you have it. That’s my problem.”

“What kind of help do you want, Walter?”

“I want to control my phobias.”

“Well, if there were a magic button on your chair, and all you had to do was push it, and your phobia about the water would disappear. Would you push the button, Walter?”

“Yes, I would.”

“But Walter, would that be the right decision? Don’t these phobias keep you safe? So, maybe this time you are wrong. It could happen sometime that your phobias could actually save your life or someone else’s. Are you sure you want to give them up?”

“Bob, I am certainly not saving my life with these phobias. I am losing my life. Look at all the worrying I do. Look at all those trips to my friend's house to shower! I am interrupting people’s lives, including my wife’s and children’s. They all have to work around my phobias. No, Bob, it is not fair. It is not just. I am being plain selfish with my own worries expecting everyone around me to cater to my unfounded, my imaginary fears. I mean I know the thoughts are crazy, but I still entertain them. No, I have to get control of them!”

“Okay, but in order to deal with your anxiety you have to face your fear. Are you ready to stop using the water as of right now?”

“Well … can’t we wait a bit?”

“Walter, I believe you are motivated, but you are just not ready to jump right in. Is that it?”

“You said it.” “Okay, we can do it in little steps. By the way, have you seen the movie, What About Bob?”

“No, well, it is about an anxious fellow. I think it would be a good idea to laugh at yourself in the film. His therapist gets him to take ‘Baby Steps’ or little steps. Let’s design a Fear Ladder with each rung on that ladder being a 'Baby Step'.”

A Fear Ladder?”

“Yep. It is simple to write up. Lets create one, me and you, about 10 steps to go from not having to do anything with the well water all the way to actually using the well water as you would your bottled water. From the least feared to the most feared. Sounds good?”

“10 steps? Sure, let’s do it.”

“Well, Walter, we will start by writing down the least fearful thing to do with the water.”

“Well …? Let's see... Hmm...”

“Just think about all the uses for the water.” “That helps. How about clothes washing?” “You want to wash clothes as your first step?” “No, I will wear the clothes washed in the well water.”

“Good. Good. STEP ONE: I will wear the underwear, pants, shirts, t-shirts, towels, all my clothing that has been washed in the well water. Great. Next?”

“How about – Wash dishes by hand,” suggested Walter

“Sounds good. Next?”

Wash face with water. That’s a good one. You don’t have to drink it or stand under it like a shower. What do you think?”

“Sure,” said Walter, “Wash face with water.”

“I am thinking,” says Walter again, “that – Take a shower could be the next step.”

“Good – Take a shower. Next?”

“Brush teeth?” jumped in Bob again.”

“Yeah, Brush teeth. And after that?”

Cook with water. Get that water absorbed by the food inside of you.”

“Are you sure?”

“Well, Walter, you have the water-washed clothes on your skin. Then you have water splashing on your skin. Then you have water in your mouth without swallowing it. It seems like the next step would be getting some of the well water indirectly inside you. Eat the food cooked in well water.”

“Okay, agreed Walter, but I might as well drink it next.”

“How do you want to drink it? Watered down milk? Coffee?”

“How about a nice cup of tea?”

“Sure, black tea like Earl Gray?” “How about green tea?”

“Okay, drink a cup of green tea. Next?”

“Next, drink a glass of well water, “ says Walter.

“A glass of water the next day,” says Bob, “, and then drink three glasses of well water a day after that, okay?”


“Now, says Counsellor Bob, each day on the fear ladder you keep up what you have done from the day before. So on day two, you are both washing dishes in the well water plus wearing well-water washed clothes. On day three, you are wearing well-water washed clothes, washing the dishes by hand AND splashing water on your face until you are doing all 10 steps every day for seven days. Sounds like a plan?”

“So, Bob, how does it work again?”

“Well, when you are following the steps on your Fear Ladder your anxiety will rise. We want it as close to or at 100% strong. That is what we need for the process to be effective. So, you stay in the clothes, or you stay under the shower, or you keep eating the well-water cooked food while trying to increase your anxiety as high as you can. Once you get the anxiety as high as you can, you keep it at that level as long as you can. After a few minutes, the anxiety will naturally burn off. It will start dropping until it is at zero. You do that with all the steps: getting your anxiety up as high as you can; then staying with the anxiety until it drops to zero; and then continuing with the next step. Eventually, your phobia will disappear.”

“I like that. Now why didn't I learn that in school in stead of sex-ed. And it works? Wow! Bye the way, how does it work?”

“Who cares! It does work, and that is all that matters, Walter. You win and the anxiety loses!”

“Sounds good, Walter?”

“Sounds good, Bob!”

Go to Walter's Phobia: Well Water Part 2

About the stories

Most people like stories, and therapy is all about stories. Telling stories about powerful techniques used in TEAM CBT therapy demystify this therapy one story at a time.

Yet, confidentiality is a cornerstone of all counselling. Without confidentiality, clients wouldn’t feel safe going to therapy to divulge the most painful areas of their lives. To safeguard clients while illustrating TEAM CBT techniques, confidentiality is kept by either having the client’s consent and /or by distorting the facts, making the client unrecognizable .

Robert Davies

Counselling Therapist

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