Phobia – Treating Phobias

phobia - mental health


A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. Phobias are more pronounced than fears. Phobias can be debilitating conditions that have massive impacts on people’s lives, and as such are treated seriously by the medical profession as a whole.

There are a variety of approaches that can be taken to combat phobias, ranging from simple self-help tasks to full-blown medical interventions. This article seeks to explain some of these approaches.

Types of Phobias

Treating phobias requires an assessment of the phobia in question, in which case it is important to know the background behind the types of phobias that exist.

Phobias fall into two different categories: specific (or simple) and complex. Specific phobias are more simplistic, usually revolving around one individual thing or past experience. Typical examples of these are animal phobias (such as arachnophobia- the fear of spiders), environmental phobias (like claustrophobia- the fear of enclosed spaces), bodily phobias (like haemophobia -blood- or emetophobia -vomit), and phobias related to sex performance.

They are ordinarily caused as a result of past life experiences, like scary encounters with small spaces or illness, or are learnt from the behaviour of family; if your parents have a particular phobia, you are more likely to develop it. Genetics are also suggested to play a role in their development, since they can make you more oriented towards nervousness.

Complex phobias are more disabling than specific phobias, and ordinarily are determined to stem from fears of more deep-rooted problems. Commonly given examples of complex phobias are agoraphobia (a fear of situations where escape may be difficult), and social phobia (a long-lasting fear of social situations).

These phobias are considered more serious, as people with them oftentimes orient their whole lives around trying to avoid being placed in situations where their phobias may be triggered. In the most extreme cases, this can lead to the breakdown of friendships, lack of eating, depression, and family crises. 

Treatment of Phobias

No single method of treatment is guaranteed to work for phobias, and in some cases you might not even be recommended treatments; for many people, the phobia is something that can be avoided and thus managed effectively. However, treatments are usually split into two categories: talking therapies, or medication.

Medication is not often subscribed to treat phobias, usually because of the associated side risks. However, they are sometimes used on a short term basis to help relieve intense anxiety. Antidepressants (specifically SSRIs, a medication designed to increase serotonin, and sometimes some other varieties) are prescribed to counter the effects of anxiety, but can over a short-term as the course starts increase the intensity of anxiety-related issues. It is important to always follow the doctor’s advice when being prescribed them.

Tranquilizers, typically Valium, are sometimes prescribed in the lowest doses to treat particularly severe anxieties, but must be weaned off of slowly in order to avoid addiction. The third type of medication are Beta-Blockers, which are a kind of heart medication. These can be prescribed to deal with the heart palpitations that can sometimes arise from anxiety disorders, and work by slowing the heartbeat and reducing blood pressure.

Much more commonly used (and oftentimes effective enough on their own), are talking therapies. Of these, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) has been shown to have great effectiveness at combating phobias.

A very common method used in treating specific phobias is called exposure therapy. In this, the phobia is identified and the person suffering the phobia is gradually exposed to more and more direct examples of their source of phobia.

For example, someone with arachnophobia will be asked to read about spiders. Then their therapist may show them pictures of spiders. Once comfortable with this, they may be taken somewhere to view real life spiders, before the final step which would be to hold a spider. The idea behind this is that through being safely exposed to the source of your phobia, you eventually learn to not associate it with as intense danger.

On top of these, mindfulness techniques have also been shown to have some effect on the severity of phobias, as well as other exercises by which you can learn to control your breathing.

Other self-help techniques can include things such as taking part in self-help groups which might help you combat your phobias. There is also evidence to suggest that making lifestyle changes can help beat phobias, as they can improve the underlying anxiety. These include getting regular exercise, getting proper amounts of sleep, reducing caffeine intake, and eating regular, balanced meals.

Tutorcare offer a specialised course on phobia awareness covering Depression, Anxiety and Phobias. This extended day course is designed for health care professionals and would also be ideal for anybody caring for a sufferer of depression, anxiety and/or phobias. The training will ensure that delegates are aware of the triggers and symptoms of these disorders, as well as the effects and impacts which they have on both the sufferer and those close to them.

Further Reading on Phobia

The NHS website has lots of information dealing with Phobias, as well as the related anxiety disorders: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phobias/

FearFighter is an online CBT resource that can be used to help deal with phobias and panic disorders (it does, however, require being purchased): http://fearfighter.cbtprogram.com/

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