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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
December 2002
Healing with Homeopathy: A Case of Airplane Phobia
by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, DHANP, LCSW and Robert Ullman, ND, DHANP
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Parts of this article are excerpted from our book, Prozac-Free: Homeopathic Alternatives to Conventional Drug Therapies (Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2002)

9-11 Gives Pause to Many a Flyer

      When we come to the subject of fear of flying, the first image that crosses the minds of many is the World Trade Center disaster. The frames of planes slicing deliberately and directly into the skyscraper will remain indelibly imprinted in many a memory around the world. Airplanes played such a significant role that historic day. The terror of even the thought of flying had a drastic effect on the aviation industry and the repercussions continue to this day. Even many who felt quite confident flying prior to 9-11 are given pause now, particularly those flying to faraway places such as the Middle East or Asia.

      We had a busy travel schedule last fall due in part to a book tour for our September-released Mystics, Masters, Saints, and Sages: Stories of Englightenment, but also to teach and study homeopathy. From mid-September until the end of November we were due to fly to Northern California, Toronto, Minneapolis, and Bombay. Our travels began about ten days after September 11th, just as the National Guard patrolled the airports in this country. Flying to Oakland was one matter; but the thought of a flight to Bombay via Amsterdam in November was a bit unsettling. This was right around the time of the anthrax scare. When, however, we shared our hesitation with our teacher, Rajan Sankaran, he replied simply,  "You'll be safer in Bombay than you will be in the US."  So we continued flying last fall, and have about every couple of months since without any significant event. We have been subjected to numerous searches, possibly due to Bob's beard.

      Speaking of beards, there was one rather curious experience returning on a Southwest flight from the Bay Area last winter. While checking in at the gate, Judyth noticed a gentleman standing in front of her who, for some reason, caught her attention. I got a strange feeling which she dismissed, assuring herself that she was just a bit tense so soon after 9/11 around Middle-Eastern men with beards. We boarded the plane and, because we were among the first to present ourselves at the gate, we were seated at the very front of the plane. All the passengers boarded. We peripherally noticed one of the pilots walking towards the rear of the plane but didn't give it a second thought.. The plane pulled on to the runway for takeoff, then halted. The pilot's voice resounded explaining that the plane was turning back due to the flight crew's discomfort concerning one of the passengers. We returned to the gate and, you guessed it, the gentleman I had noticed was escorted off the plane. At least I was reassured that I was not just racially profiling. It did startle us a bit. But not enough to consider cancelling any flights. In fact we are headed to Switzerland this coming week to teach and to Bombay in November to study.

Our Personal Experience with Fear of Flying

      I (Judyth) learned about panic attacks firsthand. A seasoned traveller, I had flown long distances, often across continents, for decades without a second thought. Then, eight years ago, I was aboard a plane flying to a meeting by myself when, frankly, I wanted to stay at home to decorate the beautiful new home we had just bought. A colleague headed for the same meeting was sitting further back in the plane The air was hot and stuffy and I was sitting in a window seat next to a very large woman. All of a sudden I became quite nervous and claustrophobic and simply felt that I must get out of the plane. The doors to the aircraft were closed but we weren't yet moving. I sheepishly explained to the attendant that I had flown many times before without any problem but that I was feeling nervous and didn't think I could handle flying. She reassured me that I would be fine and suggested that I try to relax. Gripped with fear, relaxation seemed out of my reach. I tried to calm my fear but it continued to escalate. The plane made it down the runway and was next for takeoff.

      I scarcely remember what happened next, probably because it was so embarrassing. I got up and told the attendant that I just didn't think I could continue the flight. Believe it or not, the plane turned back and dropped me off at the gate. I vaguely remember asking the attendant to let my colleague know what happened. Back in the airport, I called my husband and still remember his shock.  You did WHAT? You MUST be kidding!  Unfortunately, thanks to me, the plane arrived 20 minutes late and no one ever notified my puzzled colleague why I was no longer on the plane.

      I've has flown many times on both short and very long flights since then and have never avoided any flights based on that experience. A friend prescribed Xanax but I never opened the bottle. For several years afterwards I did have occasional moments of mild anxiety. A couple of times I took homeopathic Aconite just before takeoff, which has quickly allayed my discomfort. Fortunately, I have never again had to make a plane turn back! It really gave me tremendous insight into what my patients and others experience. And, at those times when I have had the courage to share my experience with others, I have been amazed at how many people, even frequent fliers, have had similar experiences.

Get Me Out of Here: Any Place But an Airplane

      This was a case of a patient whom we saw in the late 1980s. Sally, a 34-year-old public relations consultant, sought out homeopathy for help with her panic attacks. British and very accustomed to transcontinental air travel, flying had made her more and more nervous over th past few years. Her anxiety had increased considerably following a stillbirth a year earlier. The night before the delivery, after she and her husband learned their baby  had died, she shook all night. These shaking fits recurred several times since but were now associated with flying to Europe. The panic attacks were characterized by extreme anxiety and violent heart palpitations during  which Sally felt as if her heart would jump right out of her chest.

      Prior to her daughter's death, Sally would occasionally have panicky thoughts such as wondering what would happen if her car plunged off a bridge, but she could dismiss them. Now she felt forced to work through the entire scenario, such as a flight, in order to cope. If the thought of her car falling off the bridge entered her mind, she felt compelled to imagine the car sinking into the water, being unable to open the doors, trying to figure out how to open the windows, and having only seconds to save her own or her husband's life. Sally's feeling was sheer terror. What if she couldn't escape? What if she made the wrong decision and one or both of them died as a result?

      Sally's greatest fear about flying was the anticipation of the crash; knowing that something was wrong and waiting for it to happen. She became extremely edgy if the plane experienced any turbulence or if a bell was supposed to go off and didn't. The only way she could become calm was to remind herself that she had absolutely no control over the situation.

      The fears had begun to multiply. Riding in the passenger seat of a car Sally replayed the bridge scenario. If she had to stay in a hotel she worried about a disastrous fire. Concerns about her health had also become magnified. What if she suffered a heart attack? Or breast cancer? No one could tell her why her daughter died. Maybe she, too,had something terribly wrong with her and no one knew. Since the stillbirth, Sally had lost confidence in doctors. Also troubling were her periods which had become considerably heavier and clotted and lasted longer as well as a persistent vaginal discharge.

      Sally was plagued by a deep sense of failure since the baby's death. Having a child was what she planned for her life and it didn't happen even though she thought she had done everything right. She lived in fear of others asking her if she had any children.  "I'm always wondering if the grass is greener. I have a good marriage, I enjoy my life and my job, but I'm great at living for tomorrow.  When we travel, I drive my husband crazy. He makes the arrangements with the travel agent then I go over the whole list one by one to make sure he's made the best connections. I like to check it all out."

      Fortunate enough to have a happy childhood on a farm in the English Lake Distict, Sally had a very stable upbringing. But despite her carefree beginnings, Sally was forever worrying about one thing or another. If it was not fear that something terrible would happen to her husband, it was concern that she might die in a future childbirth as did a family friend. "My imagination just goes wild. I tend to take little things and blow them way out of proportion." Sometimes Sally's anxiety caused her to wake every hour on the hour. She frequently awoke in the middle of the night, thought she heard a strange sound, then convinced herself that a robber was breaking in  and would kill the family. Then she quickly imagined herself racing to the phone, dialing 911, and running to the door. She admitted to a dreadful fear of her own mortality. Physical problems were limited to periodic rashes and herpes on the face. She loved cofee, chocolate, and bread.

      Sally's picture is one of the more classic for panic attacks in homeopathy. We chose the following rubrics:  Fear of airplanes; Palpitations, tumultous or violent; Anxiety, anticipating; Fear of crossing a bridge; Menses, profuse; Menses, clotted; Fear of losing self-control; Fear of heart disease; Delusion everything will fail; Fear of death; and Sleeplessness from anxiety. The miasm in this case is cancer because Sally's coping mechanism is to do everything at all costs to maintain control.

      Sally matched the picture of Argentum nitricum  (silver nitrate). This is a medicine for people with anticipatory anxiety of all kinds. They often have claustrophobia and a fear of heights and bridges. Those needing this medicine have a perpetual tendency to imagine disasters and catastrophes and, therefore, are likely candidates for phobias and panic attacks. There is a profound fear of losing control; of needing to struggle and not finding help.

      Other common homeopathic medicines to consider in such cases are Aconite, Arsenicum album, and Calcarea carbonica. But others made from metal are also possibilities due to the shared symptom of fear of heights. Other plant medicines may have fear of heights, such as the Loganaceae family. It is always important to understand the underlying fear of the patient and also to tie in the chief complaint and other symptoms.

      Sally's five-week followup report was very positive. She felt much less anxious about flying and had flown from Seattle to Chicago without incident. The thoughts about driving off a bridge were gone as were the palpitations. The insomnia was somewhat improved. Sally had a small patch of ringworm for the first time in 20 years which we considered to be a return of old symptoms. Argentum nitricum is also considered to be tubercular (ringworm) and sycotic. Since Sally had ringworm frequently as a child, we understood that this symptom was part of her healing response and that it would resolve over time.

      Over the past three years Sally has continued to do remarkably well. She has needed six doses of the Argentum nitricum.    She has a lovely son, who has also done quite well with homeopathy.


Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman are licensed naturopathic physicians board certified in homeopathy. Their books include Prozac Free, Whole Woman Homeopathy, Ritalin-Free Kids, Rage-Free Kids, Homeopathic Self-Care, The Patient's Guide to Homeopathic Medicine, and Mystics, Masters, Saints and Sages-Stories of Enlightenment. They teach and lecture widely and practice at The Northwest Center for Homeopathic Medicine  in Edmonds, Washington and Langley, Washington. They are currently participating in a free study funded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) researching the effectiveness of homeopathic treatment of ADHD.  They treat patients by phone as well as in person and can be reached by telephone at 425-774-5599 or by fax at 425-670-0319.
Their Web site is

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