Phobias

By: 
Dr Jelena Goranovic

Phobia fear of flying, height, insects

A phobia is excessive fear related to a specific object or situation which often leads to avoidance of such objects/situations. The extent of phobia varies from person to person, with some people simply not wanting to touch the phobic object (e.g. a spider in the case of arachnophobia) to others not being able to be in the same room with the object or even unable to look at a picture of it! Panic attacks are very common in phobia sufferers and can be very distressing.

Avoiding a phobic object/situation may have a major negative impact on people’s lives, especially in complex cases such as agoraphobia (fear of open spaces), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces) or social phobia (fear of social situations) where avoiding the phobic situation essentially results in the complete disruption of individual’s life.

Sometimes there is a discernible cause of a phobia, a particularly traumatic incident which the person remembers and which subsequently caused them to avoid the situation (e.g. the experience of drowning is likely to trigger hydrophobia; being mugged or having a panic attack in a street is likely to cause agoraphobia), but more often than not the person is not aware of a cause or a clear cause simply doesn’t exist. Many of our fears and phobias are also learned behaviours acquired in early childhood through observation of others (e.g. parents or older siblings) who displayed excessive fear of certain objects/situations (e.g. fear of dogs).

Although a variety of drugs (antidepressants, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers) can be used to control the distressing symptoms of phobias, these approaches cannot be considered as long-term options as they do not tackle the root-cause of phobias, which is primarily psychological. All approaches to treating phobias are thus psychotherapeutic although recent research indicates that certain drugs can be used alongside psychotherapeutic interventions to enhance their effectiveness.

Systematic desensitisation is one of the most common psychotherapeutic approaches whereby the phobia sufferer is gradually exposed to the phobic stimulus. Hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis can be used as additional interventions to help with the systematic desensitisation process. Talking therapies such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychodynamic therapy approaches may also be effective as well as neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)-based ‘fast phobia cure’ and REM Induction Therapy (REMit). Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) has also been gaining popularity as a treatment for phobias, and recent research showed it to be superior to self-relaxation techniques both in the short- and the long-term.

Published by Hove StressBusters
July 2012

 

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