What is a Phobia?
A Phobia is an intense fear of an object or situation that is disproportionate to the actual danger posed by that object or situation. Individuals with phobias will usually go to great lengths to avoid the object of their fear. In anticipation of coming in contact with their feared object or when actually coming in contact with the object, the phobic individual will often have a panic attack.
Phobias are a relatively common condition. However, individuals usually seek treatment for their phobias if they cause significant impairment, distress or interference in their daily lives.
What are some common Phobias?
While an individual may have a phobia of almost anything, phobias tend to cluster into common subtypes.
Common phobias include the fear of:
- Animals, e.g. dogs, cats, snakes, bugs
- Natural or environmental situations, e.g. heights, storms, water, darkness
- Blood or injections
- Planes, trains, cars, tunnels, bridges, etc.
- Enclosed places, e.g. elevators, closets, etc.
- Clowns or masked characters
- Doctors or dentists
- Loud noises
How are Phobias treated?
The most effective treatment for phobias is a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy called graduated exposure.
Graduated Exposure involves gradually exposing a patient to the feared object or situation. With repeated exposure, the patient learns firsthand that their anxiety is excessive and irrational and their anxiety decreases.
Treatment for phobias typically begins with education about the disorder and the treatment. Then the patient and the therapist build an anxiety hierarchy, in which different situations involving the phobic object are identified and ranked from least to most anxiety provoking. With the therapist's support, and at a pace that is comfortable for the patient, the patient is exposed to each situation on the anxiety hierarchy until that situation no longer provokes anxiety.
For example, therapy sessions for someone with a fear of dogs might begin with exposure to pictures of a dog and then to the sound of a dog barking. As the patient gets more comfortable, the exposure therapy would progress to having the patient in the same room with a small puppy in a cage, gradually increasing the patient's proximity to the cage. Then the patient would move on to being in the same room with and getting nearer to a puppy on a leash but not in a cage. Future sessions would involve working with dogs of varying sizes and in different situations until the fear of dogs completely subsides.
In situations where the feared object can not be brought into a session, the patient and therapist would seek out those situations outside the office. For example, in the case of fear of heights, sessions would involve traveling to buildings of varying heights and going to different floors. Often, the last exposure session is held on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/phobias/DS00272 - The Mayo Clinic phobia site.
http://www.phobialist.com/treat.html - An article on phobia treatment.
http://www.adaa.org/GettingHelp/AnxietyDisorders/Panicattack.asp - Information about phobias and their treatment.