The First Courses
The first courses on fear of flying were started in 1975 at Pan Am by Captain Truman "Slim" Cummings and at U.S. Air by Captain Frank Petee and therapist Carol Stauffer, MSW. Captain Tom Bunn, LCSW, began working with Captain Cummings in 1980. These courses offered statistics, information on how flying works, and relaxation exercises. A "graduation flight" with the instructor followed.
The "success rate" claimed was based on the percentage of course participants who took the graduation flight,
generally around 90%. Yet, in most classes, 65% of the participants could fly, though with difficulty.
Some - counted as successful because they took the "graduation flight" - never flew again. The relaxation
exercises were simply not enough to help people whose anxiety escalated rapidly into panic or near-panic.
SOAR Established In 1982 With The Aim To Help Everyone
In order to develop a program that would help everyone, Captain Bunn established SOAR in 1982. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques developed by Dr. Claire Weekes were added.
The new techniques made it possible to help most of those not helped by the original programs. Research conducted in 1984 found SOAR "highly effective". Still, a few clients were unable to find relief. Special courses were set up for this "hard-core" group, using psychologists who were highly trained in other methods - NLP, hypnosis, Gestalt Therapy and Behavioral Therapy - but none of these methods were effective.
A Breakthrough - The Means To Help Everyone Was Developed
Determined to find a way to help everyone, Captain Bunn went to graduate school, became licensed as a therapist and attended three training institutes. This training, together with experience with several thousand clients and research using brain scan technology, produced a breakthrough.
A way was developed to change the mental processes that cause the unwanted feelings. High anxiety, claustrophobia and panic are produced by mental processes that operate automatically and unconsciously. In retrospect, it should have been evident all along that relief could be obtained only if the process causing the feelings could be changed.
Everyone Can Fly Successfully In Just A Few Days
Now, using video to guide you step-by-step, the processes that cause anxiety, claustrophobia and panic are changed.
Though many clients are able to fly successfully in just one day, Captain Bunn recommends one video-guided session a day for a week, if time permits, before flying.
Transition From Group To Individual Courses
From 1982 until 1986, SOAR conducted fear of flying courses at major airports all over the United States and was the largest organization providing such courses.
The SOAR Course was presented as part of the continuing education program in New York at CUNY and in Connecticut at Fairfield University.
Captain Bunn appeared on Good Morning America, Regis, CNN, MSNBC and was featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Newsweek Magazine (cover story), The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other publications.
In 1986, a transition was made from courses attended in person to courses using audio casette tapes, written materials and counseling sessions, usually by phone.
This transition followed research comparing in-person courses with individual courses, which showed far superior results via individual study. Though in-person courses might appear ideal, there are significant drawbacks:
1. No reinforcement: Reinforcement - repeated exposure to information - is needed for the information to be retained. Presentation of course material once required three to four days, leaving no time for repeated exposure.
2. Anxiety: Course participants were in some cases too focused and too anxious about the "graduation flight" to absorb the information presented.
3. Attachment: Anxiety triggers a need to attach to - and to depend on - other course participants and to the course instructor. The "graduation flight" done as a group increases this attachment. Following the course, this attachment undermined efforts to fly without these people.
4. Lack of one-to-one attention: Attention to the individual needs of each client was not practical in the group format.
5. Control: Most fearful fliers feel a need to be in control. Group courses, being controlled by time constraints and the course instructor, do not allow each participant to feel in control.
With the individual course format, there are major supports:
1. Reinforcement: The course material can be reviewed more than once so it is retained.
2. Anxiety: There is no "graduation flight" to focus on at the end of the course. Whatever flight is to be your personal "graduation flight" is subject to your own choice, control, and timing.
3. Attachment: Attachment issues to persons you will never fly with again are avoided. Because attachment is potentially supportive, the SOAR program links flight experience with supportive experiences in your life. This provides attachment which is "portable" support you always have with you.
4. One-to-one attention: Every SOAR Course includes at least a 20-minute phone session with Captain Bunn to ensure success. The Guaranteed Program includes two hours of counseling. In addition, there is unlimited group phone counseling (Wednesday 10 PM - 11 PM Eastern time).
5. Control: You stay in control of the program, determining when to view course materials, how long to review, when to set up a counseling session, and - only when you feel ready - take a flight. Captain Bunn is on cell-phone standby to speak with you on your flight day at no extra charge.
Consultant to the American Airlines "Achieving Flight" Program
Captain Bunn was consulted by phobia authority Dr. Reid Wilson, Ph.D., author of "Don't Panic", when he was called upon to set up a fear of flying program at American Airlines.