An update for completeness on this topic and wanted to share my recent experiences for rollercoasterphobiacs :-)
I had a little jaunt to Chessington a few weeks ago in which I massively enjoyed Vampire, Dragon's Fury and even had a new photo taken on Dragon Falls (the very ride mentioned in my first post on this topic which caused me so much terror the first time I did it), which showed me looking directly into the camera, not scared, poking my tongue out! Decided that coasters seemed a lot easier than before so I set myself a challenge for a weekend at Alton Towers in which I would do ALL SIX of the major coasters, no small feat for someone who'd not ridden anything until two months ago.
Some of you will notice my ridecount below more than doubled this weekend. Basically, I completely cured my phobia and owned all of Alton Towers' rides at the same time :-)
Both days were amazing for different reasons. On the Saturday I did Air, Th13teen & Spinball, then did my first 'big coaster', Oblivion, as the last ride of the day in the pouring rain. Trembling like an eleven year old on their first day at high school, I got onto the ride, terrorized myself right up to the holding brake, screamed all the way down and back up, and had an adrenaline rush after that kept me awake all night.
The next day I got an ERT session which meant I'd done Nemesis and Rita by 10am and completed my six rides challenge, then showed off by adding another five Nemesis (including 1 front row), another Rita, four more Oblivion, more Air and Th13teen.
Regarding Alton's rides, I know a lot of you guys debated on this topic over the suitability of various rides for beginners, so I wanted to share my beginner's perspective on each of them, in the order I think phobiacs should do them.
1) Apart from Runaway Mine Train, which is a must for newbies, there is no doubt that Air IS a fantastic first time rollercoaster. It has all the elements of the major rides without being too intense or scary. If you can do Air, you can work your way up to the others no problem.
2) I agree that Th13teen is a great family coaster, but I would say that the first drop and maybe first 10 seconds or so of the ride may put off a lot of very new riders due to intensity and lack of bulky restraints leading to an unsafe feeling. On my first ride I had a moment of 'what the f**k!' before I got my composure back, but the feeling subsides quickly and the drop in the dark is nowhere near as scary as you might imagine, it just feels great. So for that reason I would say it is a perfect follow-on once you've conquered Air. It isn't a big jump at all, but definitely do Air first.
2a) If you need a progression from Air to Th13teen and are prepared to travel, go and do Vampire at Chessington - it's more like a 'normal' ride without being intense at all.
3) Sonic Spinball is probably best after Th13teen, it's fairly intense, especially the biggest drop and banked loop, and the spinning makes it quite disorientating, but if you can do this you'll feel ready for the bigger rides.
4) Oblivion is definitely next - this is the first major coaster you'll do and I promise that the thought IS much worse than the reality. If you can beat this coaster, you have mastered the technique of controlling your pre-ride fear and making yourself do a coaster your mind tells you not to. The build up to the holding brake might be terrifying, but the ride itself is sooo short you have absolutely no time to understand the forces you are experiencing, and a few seconds later you're back at the station. If you're laughing or giggling at this point, you've successfully defeated your phobia, all the rest will be comparatively easy.
5) Nemesis is next. After Oblivion it won't feel like such a huge ride because it doesn't have any major 'fear points' - no big drops, no launches, but I don't feel it can be done before the rides mentioned above because it has a constant stream of intensity that you need to learn to manage. I found the POV videos very useful for this ride allowing me to spot the most intense points and the easier bits where I could recover. But if you've learned to cope with the other rides, you'll love Nemesis - because it's brilliant, pure and simple.
6) Rita is last, it might not have pre-ride build-up like Oblivion, or the multiple inversions like Nemesis, but the first 5-10 seconds are massively intense and liable to make unprepared riders bottle out of riding again after. It's pretty fast all the way through the ride and you'll only get your composure back some time after the launch and first air-time hill, but just like Oblivion, if you're laughing at the end, you'll know you are now able to do absolutely anything.
So, my thoughts on curing a rollercoaster phobia are simple.
1) If you are a 'stubborn refuser' - you know, the kind that refuses to ride when everyone tries to coerce you into doing one - why not try becoming a 'stubborn coach to yourself'. I AM going to do this ride, I WILL NOT talk myself out of doing it.
2) Watch the videos of the rides you want to do beforehand, make sure you know exactly how they ride in your head before going on them for real, it takes away a lot of the anticipation and allows you to positively reinforce that everything you're feeling is expected whilst the ride is running.
3) Try to separate your fear into distinct elements. If you don't like drops (like me), don't want to go upside down, don't like fast starts, research big coasters that don't have them. Alton has something for everyone.
4) Research, research, research! Ask questions on forums, ask your mates, read guides, reviews, look into new coasters being built. The more you know, the more confident you'll become. I already surprise myself at how much I know about rollercoasters compared with many of my coaster-manic friends.
5) Scream (loudly)! It takes away a lot of the bad thoughts whilst the ride is in operation. Pretend you want to terrify the people on the ground into not doing the ride, in your head you're trying to transfer the fear to other people and away from yourself.
6) Be prepared to go outside of your comfort zone! I got a little stuck after my first ride on Air because it felt like the jump to the other coasters was too great. The reality is that your first ever coaster IS the hardest - if you do one, you CAN do the others. The reality IS NOT as bad as the thought beforehand, so make sure you keep trying to progress rather than just staying on one, despite how scared you feel.
Finally, if you need a reason to cure your phobia - make it Nemesis. Six rides in one day for me speaks volumes - without doubt the finest ride experience I can possibly imagine, one ride is worth the day's ticket price, and I totally see why coaster experts rate it so highly. I fear I may have to go a long way abroad to top it!
Thanks for your advice everyone, you made a coaster-enthusiast out of me! See you back at Alton for ScareFest! :D/