top of page
Front Page Moons copy 2.png

Fear of Water:

Aqua-Phobic People Become Swimmers


By Casey Sugarman

August 11, 2017

According to Terry Duffy of Uncasville, CT "This surely wasn't like any swimming lessons I've ever seen. " Jack Stabach, director of the very competitive East Lyme Aquatic and Fitness Programs says "I am thrilled to be able to provide this unique and rare but needed service to the local communities, since fear of water is a real problem that doesn't get enough attention. For safety reasons alone, residents in waterfront towns should know about such a great opportunity for people who wouldn't otherwise be able to get out and enjoy the water!"


Now that her kids are learning to swim, Terry wanted to get over her long-standing fear. "If I had to go to he beach, I'd only go in up to my ankles, and I can't help my kids if I can't go in. I've been gung ho about learning to swim before I'm 40, but my body just wouldn't do it! It's like I've had no control over my reactions to getting wet!"


For people who have tried the swimming classes, mantras, or repeated exposures and are still uncomfortable, their situation is actually quite common. Many people suffer from a clear but as yet un-addressed problem around water. A 1998 Gallup Poll found that 46% of all adult Americans were uncomfortable with the deep end of a pool. Sugarman takes students from the ages of 5 to 95. It's never too early and never too late, and overcoming a fear of water is just about the single most self-empowering thing a person can do.


Bad reactions to water are largely subconscious and physiological in nature, so we are not capable of stopping them until the brain can learn about its own state of self control. Sometimes sessions have to start in the parking lot, where the water is nowhere in view. Panic, feeling like you're losing your balance, feeling stiff, gasping in response to the sight or sound of water, feeling tense and unsure, heart racing, and the water feeling "foreign" are all quite normal starting places for aqua-phobia participants.

OSCAR Therapy Reverses Aquaphobia



A phobia is an emotional abscess. At the core is a buried unconscious memory of a set of un-processed negative experiences in the past that participants may or may not remember. A phobia also becomes something like an addiction. Countless layers of evasive habits, excuses, and irrational beliefs surround the core like layers of an onion, keeping a rotten memory hidden and walled off in order to shield the brain from further bad experience.


Terry's rational brain would seem to shut down just as she would touch the water, so she could never be cognizant enough to learn that she was safe. Whether the fear is of getting crowded in the water, getting pushed into the water, being underwater, not touching bottom, snorkels, or sharks!, the treatment is the same.

The Treatment: OSCAR Therapy in Water

Complete phobia reversal is not only possible but the process is predictable, and complete recovery is routine. OSCAR Therapy does not use standard "habituation" or any "mind over matter" methods, and it does not use any psychic or "body energy" approaches. It's just micro-steps made easy; open ended scheduling lets students meet goals at their own pace. And yet, progress is exponential; students are always shocked at how fast they are progressing.


OSCAR Therapy does not merely teach people to "get used to it"; it teaches people to seek out the once noxious stimulus and see it in a new way, as play, and sessions are full of laughter. The treatment, which is customized to each student, teaches a game which rebuilds their normal experience of primal emotions. Sessions are all private, not in groups, and scheduling is flexible all year long.


Any size fear can be fully reversed. Just like PTSD therapy for returning military personnel, re-experiencing each layer of memory puts the student in complete control of a new rational approach to the original trigger. There is no need for any flotation equipment of any kind. The only tools used are goggles. People learn best when they are lightly challenged to be creative, and creative problem solving is what quickly builds a strong, self-reliant foundation.


After just 4 sessions of OSCAR Therapy in the pool's shallow end, Terry was playing games fully submerged, was swimming the side stroke, and controls her buoyancy with her lungs alone, even though on session one, "I couldn't get past the third step on the stairs." Terry has been able to advance quickly as is now taking standard adult swimming lessons at Nutmeg.


Casey Sugarman, Phobia Specialist
Sugarman has been reversing phobias in animals and in people for 18 years.


For help with behavioral triggers or behavior-centered rehabilitation and instruction, call Nutmeg Aquatics (860) 691-4681


Note: This article is not instructional. Emotional recovery in phobic individuals should be directed by a professional behaviorist to reduce risk of injury.


bottom of page