Phobias – Recognition and Treatment
David Prescott, Ph.D. – Acadia Hospital
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Phobias – Some are Rare, Some are Common:
Phobias are intense, excessive fears about certain objects or situations. The number of people who suffer from phobias is surprisingly high. Phobias affect around 10 million Americans. Only depression and alcoholism rank higher than phobias in terms of common mental health problems
There have been names given to dozens of different types of phobias. Some examples include:
Triskadekaphobia Fear of the number 13
Phalacrophobia Fear of becoming bald
Antlophobia Fear of floods
Chionophobia Fear of snow
The phobias listed above are relatively uncommon, and they rarely cause serious disruption on people’s lives. However, in some cases, people’s anxiety about a certain object or situation can become debilitating. People with severe cases of phobias such as social phobia or agoraphobia often go to great lengths to avoid such things as social interactions or crowds.
Common Phobias Which Are The Focus of Mental health Treatment: Some common phobias that may require professional treatment include:
Agoraphobia Fear of being in a place or situation where escape is difficult
Social Phobia Fear of embarrassment or how one will act in a social situation. Health Related Phobias Fear of germs or sickness; or fear of healthcare procedures
Environmental Phobias Fear of heights, water, or fire
Social Phobia or Social Anxiety Disorder
Social Phobia, or social anxiety disorder, affects about 15 million American adults, and is one of the most common phobias. People with social phobia become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. They usually experience an intense fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They can worry for days or weeks before a dreaded situation. In addition to subjective worry, they often experience physical symptoms of anxiety in social situations such as blushing, trembling, nausea, and difficulty talking.
Treatment for Phobias is Highly Effective
Sadly, many people with phobias which negatively impact everyday life never get help for their problem. If left untreated, phobias and other anxiety disorders can become increasingly debilitating, since people’s first response is often to avoid an anxiety producing situation. Without treatment this avoidance can become more and more widespread and lead people to become increasingly isolated.
Treatment for phobias may involve changing the way you think about anxiety producing situations, changing how you behave in these situations, or taking medication to alter your brain/body’s response to an anxiety producing situation. Effective treatments include:
· Behavior Therapies: Behavioral therapies involve learning a relaxation response, then introducing the person to the phobic object while they are in a very relaxed state. Doing this very gradually allows the person to gradually overcome their fears. New technologies, such as virtual reality helmets, are proving to be highly useful as an alternative to actual exposure to a feared situation.
· Cognitive Therapies: Another form of treatment focuses on changing how we think about something we fear. For example, people with social phobia often believe they will say something silly or embarrassing during a conversation. Helping these people change this belief, by perhaps having them practice a brief casual conversation, can help reduce the fear.
· Medications: Medications such as anti-anxiety medications or a class of medication called SSRI’s, are often effective forms of treatment for anxiety and phobia.
For More Information:
Acadia Hospital www.acadiahospital.com
American Psychological Association Help Center: www.apa.org/helpcenter