Aversion to snakes, or at least a predisposition to strongly avoid snakes, appears to be deeply rooted at the genomic level in primates. See, for example, The Human Evolution Blog. Be warned, there are pictures!

A word often used is ophidiophobia, defined by Wikipedia as

....the abnormal fear of snakes.....Care must also be taken to differentiate people who do not like snakes or fear them for their venom or the inherent danger involved. An ophidiophobe would not only fear them when in live contact but also dreads to think about them or even see them on TV or in pictures.

About a third of adult humans are ophidiophobic, making this the most common reported phobia.

In the opinion of the OP, the definition incorrectly identifies intense aversion with fear. The OP has an intense aversion to snakes, but does not fear them if they are not dangerous nor does she hate them.

How would you, leading a person or group of people in TGO, set about breaking down an aversion to snakes in one of your charges, assuming the person was willing but very skeptical and nervous at the prospect?

No pictures please, except in a link with a warning!

Footnote: The OP's aversion is less as a result of seeing a smallish snake slithering along, minding its own business, several times at home and on trails. Also, reading the section on the pink rattlesnakes in the Grand Canyon helped. (Colin Renfrew, The Man who Walked through Time.) Still....no pictures, please!

  • 2
    Watching the Indiana Jones movies might help... But then again, it might not.
    – user5330
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 0:21
  • 1
    I apparently am "ophidiophobic" and pretty strongly so. For me the only thing that helped somewhat was habituation. As a kid I always pushed myself to walk once through the terrarium section in the zoo.That actually helped somewhat, but I still get scared even just watching snakes on TV (they move so much more there xD ). I didn't follow through with this habituation, as there are almost no snakes where I live. Still this seems to be the only possibility: Voluntary exposure. Don't press anyone to watch or even get close to a snake, just guide people and they might eventually get there!
    – imsodin
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 8:46
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    I'd say you probably shouldn't. If someone is afraid of snakes and you try and break this down there's a fair chance you'll do more harm than good. Unless they ask you to help them get over it, just try and support them as best you can
    – user2766
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 11:26
  • 1
    Get a pet snake. They're an easy pet to keep. You feed them once a week and they spend most of their time sleeping. More of an ornament than a pet, but it could help you overcome your fear to have one around all the time, albeit in a sealed glass box.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 17:20
  • I used to be fearless around snakes. Then I got bit... Didn't hurt much, snakes have pretty sharp fangs, and it happened real quick. I'm ok with snakes on the ground still, but I don't try to catch them anymore.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 17:23

3 Answers 3


You cannot overcome a phobia without facing the cause that triggers the fear in the first place, at least in a indirect way. To close the book on a phobia and throw it away really cannot help one get over a phobia.

Many people get professional help to deal with their treatment of phobias. Like anything else the degrees of phobias vary from individual to individual. Some medication do exist for the treatment of phobias (of which I will neither recommend or suggest since I am not a doctor). If one prefers this route, that is fine, but please see a qualified doctor of your choice.

It is interesting to note that some phobias extends to pictures of a particular phobia in question. Yet it may be one of key ingredients in constructing a Fear Ladder as an aid in overcoming one's fear or phobia.

Here is one suggestion one might try to do helping one get over a particular phobia: It is called a Fear Ladder. Nothing is a 100% successful, but it may help. I am using the phobia of dogs as an example of how to construct a fear ladder as is set out in the following article: Phobias and Irrational Fears - Symptoms, Treatment, and Self-Help for Overcoming Your Anxiety and Fear.

The most effective way to overcome a phobia is by gradually and repeatedly exposing yourself to what you fear in a safe and controlled way. During this exposure process, you’ll learn to ride out the anxiety and fear until it inevitably passes.

Through repeated experiences facing your fear, you’ll begin to realize that the worst isn’t going to happen; you’re not going to die or "lose it." With each exposure, you’ll feel more confident and in control. The phobia begins to lose its power.

Successfully facing your fears takes planning, practice, and patience. The following tips will help you get the most out of the exposure process.

Climbing up the “fear ladder”

If you’ve tried exposure in the past and it didn’t work, you may have started with something too scary or overwhelming. It’s important to begin with a situation that you can handle, and work your way up from there, building your confidence and coping skills as you move up the “fear ladder.”

Facing a fear of dogs: *A sample fear ladder

Step 1: Look at pictures of dogs.

Step 2: Watch a video with dogs in it.

Step 3: Look at a dog through a window. (A zoo for snakes).

Step 4: Stand across the street from a dog on a leash. (Watch kids playing with a garden variety snake).

Step 5: Stand 10 feet away from a dog on a leash.

Step 6: Stand five feet away from a dog on a leash.

Step 7: Stand beside a dog on a leash.

Step 8: Pet a small dog that someone is holding.

Step 9: Pet a larger dog on a leash.

Step 10: Pet a larger dog off leash.

Build your fear ladder. Arrange the items on your list from the least scary to the most scary. The first step should make you slightly anxious, but not so frightened that you’re too intimidated to try it. When creating the ladder, it can be helpful to think about your end goal (for example, to be able to be near dogs without panicking) and then break down the steps needed to reach that goal.

Work your way up the ladder. Start with the first step (in this example, looking at pictures of dogs) and don’t move on until you start to feel more comfortable doing it. If at all possible, stay in the situation long enough for your anxiety to decrease. The longer you expose yourself to the thing you’re afraid of, the more you’ll get used to it and the less anxious you’ll feel when you face it the next time. If the situation itself is short (for example, crossing a bridge), do it over and over again until your anxiety starts to lessen. Once you’ve done a step on several separate occasions without feeling too much anxiety, you can move on to the next step. If a step is too hard, break it down into smaller steps or go slower.

Practice. It’s important to practice regularly. The more often you practice, the quicker your progress will be. However, don’t rush. Go at a pace that you can manage without feeling overwhelmed. And remember: you will feel uncomfortable and anxious as you face your fears, but the feelings are only temporary. If you stick with it, the anxiety will fade. Your fears won’t hurt you.

Nothing in life may be perfect, but I hope this may be helpful.

  • This is a fantastic answer. I taught science at a small school in NY and had a student that was "screaming out of the room" afraid of spiders - but willing to work on it. She was proactive - and often made a bit of fun of herself for it. Using a ladder similar to that described above, by the end of the semester the class had a pet tarantula and she even touched it and fed it. She never actually held it, but having the peer support and a self-guided increasing exposure allowed her to function with the thing in the room.
    – That Idiot
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 15:00
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    +1, but speaking only for myself, I am repelled by pictures of a snake more than I am by a real (smallish) snake outdoors. I think the reason is that in the picture, the snake is the focus. Outdoors, the snake is just one element --- and a small element --- of the surroundings. I'd also like to reemphasize, again speaking only for myself, the difference between aversion or repugnance and fear.
    – ab2
    Commented Nov 21, 2016 at 23:59

Someone with an aversion to snakes has two issues when it comes to a camping trip:

  • seeing a snake and having a panic attack or other negative reaction in a particular moment
  • worrying about seeing a snake and feeling anxious and unhappy for the entire duration of the trip

If this was my aversion and I was planning a trip, or if it was the aversion of someone close to me I wanted to take on a trip, I would not try to cure the first one. That's for a professional. I would work on the second one. Where I camp (Southern Ontario, occasionally some of the southerly parts of Northern Ontario) seeing snakes is very rare. We see a snake (land or water) or its skin roughly once a decade, whether camping or at our rural home. We find it cool and exciting, call everyone over, take pictures, etc. But of course not everyone feels that way.

I would offer the following assurances:

  • the presence of a snake is highly unlikely
  • when we walk a trail, you don't have to go first. The people in front of you will watch for snakes
  • in the rare event they see a snake, they will warn you and keep you and the snake apart, you will be protected by the group
  • the group will perform any checking you need, such as checking your shoes for snakes before you put them on, going first into situations that are causing you anxiety, and so on
  • if you have a panic attack or refuse to do something or otherwise behave irrationally, we will still love and support you. We will find another route, or carry you, or even cut the trip short if we must. And nobody will say you ruined the trip if we do. We will be understanding and supportive for you,

I would hope this collection of support would make a trip feasible for the person with an aversion, and I would leave the actual psychological work to someone else.


This might appear as an old-school tri-stated (hence, not convincing enough) answer in a perfect binary world. Well, I have been around snakes for quite some time. To be honest haven't really tried to handle them beyond necessity, possibly because thoughts towards their and my own safety.

To get used to with what you don't usually do needs some time and persistent exposure to that very thing. The utmost essential things are requirement and desire.

Requirement: If I have a strong aversion to snakes, and If I am living in an area where I might find a snake (though, minding it's own business all the while) I may not like my stay there for a longer period of time. C'mon, if I hate drunkards, I possibly can't live by a dirty bar, not for long. This leaves us with the choice to either get used to with it, or change!

Desire: This comes as an immediate factor. To get used to with something, I need to feel the desire to underline my requirement of getting used to it.

While the above two are applicable over a many many things in life, I'll talk about snakes in particular.

The primary factor about making people feel not endangered when snakes are around is education. As a first step without any snake around, I would typically ask what they feel about snakes:

  • If they are scared of snakes, if yes, why?
  • Or do they hate snakes as an animal for no reason or just because a bite can kill or put a life at great risk?

Then comes the second part, I'd talk about my experiences with snakes and how snakes didn't really try to kill me the way they show in movies. I'd rather try telling (not convincing right away) them that once you understand them, starts respecting them for what they are, you and snake both are safe.

Then I'd ask their part of the story:

  • Have they seen a snake real-time? (Very likely to be answered as affirmative, but still I'd ask)
  • Where was it? Did the snake attack? (This can help them telling that don't venture into wrong areas)
  • Have they been chased by a snake ever (as a sarcasm to make the point of course)?

Through these kind of questions, I'd come to know if they are really scared of them through unfortunate encounters or are they scared just by the stories people tell. Sometimes over-exaggerated descriptions/discussions (or plain lie) can make one feel scared of snakes, and its not entirely the person's fault. These self-answerable questions are need to be asked so that they believe with adequate knowledge they can take of their own safety. Get the thought-process going. Let the questions come from their side as well.

If I see the person is interested to know a bit more, I think I have broken the ice, but at the same time it is essential to tell them not to try doing things they have never tried or have experience of.

e.g. Tom says, "Hey snakes are not really animals who want to kill humans, see there is this rattler and its not gonna kill me, WedaPashi says the same."
Tom does not panic this time (Amazing start!), Tom is not scared (bring it on!), Tom doesn't run away (Way to go boy!) but he does what shouldn't do and gets bitten and is dead (Shuddder!).
At Tom's funeral Dick says to Harry, "Bloody rattlers. They all want to kill you. It bit Tom on purpose, I saw, it jumped way far than its length and you know Tom is always scared of snakes and karma got to him. WedaPashi is weirdo, snakes don't bite him for some reason." Tom's father spend the rest of the days shooting snakes with shotgun, Dick and Harry never went hiking/camping for the rest of their lives which they lived through hating snakes all the while. WedaPashi is labelled abnormal freak by the duo.


e.g. Tom says, "Hey snakes are not really animals who want to kill humans, see there is this rattler and its not gonna kill me, WedaPashi says the same."
Tom does not panic this time (Amazing start!), Tom is not scared (bring it on!), Tom doesn't run away (Way to go boy!) but he does what shouldn't do and handles the snake in a way he shouldn't, The innocent snake gets injured, or is killed (Shudder!).
At the bar, Tom is on cloud no.9 and Dick says to Harry, "Bloody rattlers. I thought they all want to kill you. But you know what, they can't. I saw, it tried to hide, skid away but you know what(!), Tom who is always scared of snakes, got hold of it. He squeezed it hard with a stick so that it doesn't run away. We clicked some pictures. It was great." Dick dies trying the same and Tom started hating snakes again, more this time. Tom and Harry never went hiking/camping for the rest of their lives which they lived through hating snakes all the while. WedaPashi is labelled abnormal freak by the duo.

Either ways, if I talked Tom away from his aversion to this stage, I am at fault, its my mistake entirely.

Based on the probability of coming across a snake, I'd identify if the person really needs to come and see it and is ready for it or not. Its not necessary to make the person touch or handle a snake. Visual memories/representation (like we see in movies) plays major role in aversion towards snakes. May be I can locate a snake basking in the sunlight, not willing to harm anyone around, and show that to the person from a safe distance. That might change the image he/she has of snakes in his/her mind (The one with aggressive eyes, unusually big fags).

Its unlike other stuff like swimming, speed, etc. Aversion towards animals, can be overcome by educating, which does not require contact beyond a certain barrier. You need not be sitting on an elephant or feeding it haystack if you are scared of it. You need not be a handling a non-venomous snake to realize that you are not scared of it or no longer hating it.

If at all I am not able to get the person thinking and the person is not really able to break the nutshell, its absolutely fine. I must have tried enough to educate him/her at least in a direction which delivers overall awareness and might help keeping both of them a bit more safer.

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