Taking the ‘ouch’ out of needle phobias

Bachelor of Nursing second year student Samantha Dennis, at left, with Jessica McIvor who has devised a manual to ease the anxiety of getting a jab for needle phobic people.


Masters psychology student Jessica McIvor has devised a treatment for clinical psychologists dealing with needle-phobic children. She says it could eventually also ease the anxiety of adults put off from donating blood or undergoing routine medical check-ups because of a fear of needles.

The Coping Kids Treatment Manual suggests alternative methods to physical restraint or sedation for encouraging children to accept a needle injection. These include teaching children to use different breathing techniques, as well as using emotive imagery such as pretending to have super-hero powers to get through the injection procedure.

According to the Ministry of Health’s National Immunisation Schedule, children facing a regime of compulsory inoculations before the age of 11 require at least 12 immunisation injections.

“The literature shows that needle injections are one of the most scary medical procedures children have to face,” Miss McIvor says.

Many children with a recognised needle phobia traditionally reacted by becoming increasingly anxious, and showed heightened fear and pain responses. They often physically tried to avoid the needle injecting procedure, refused to follow instructions when undergoing assessment and were less cooperative with subsequent needle injections, she says.

To try and overcome this the research, which involves a supervised assessment of six chronically ill children aged five to 15 years of age, encourages the children to use their imaginations as well as expose them to real-life needle injection situations.

Initial conclusions to the research project which will be completed at the end of the year, found that children with needle-related distress generally exaggerated the size of the needle they were being injected with.

The children were referred to Massey’s Psycho-Oncology and Health Conditions Service by MidCentral District Health Board via a services contract the University has with the hospital.

In time, Miss McIvor hopes not just clinical psychologists but also family doctors treating patients other than children can use the manual.

“The study has the potential to improve medical, psychological and social implications of needle-related distress,” Miss McIvor says. “People are always requiring medical treatment which require injections and penetration of the skin.”

She was supported with her research project by supervisors Dr Joanne Taylor and Dr Kirsty Ross from the School of Psychology.

Her presentation to the New Zealand Psychological Society Conference in Queenstown last month earned Miss McIvor $250 for winning the Institute of Clinical Psychology best student conference paper. The Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Scholarship sponsored her attendance at the conference. Massey University administers the fellowships providing significant financial support to students studying master and doctoral degrees at New Zealand universities.