Phobias are a common mental consideration for people in the U.S. From spiders to heights, if you find yourself preoccupied with fear or intrusive thoughts when it comes to something that other people seem not to mind, you may be one of the 10% of the public that has a phobia.
While someone’s dislike of snakes or flying is not necessarily debilitating, living with an actual phobia can make the day-to-day feel really difficult. For example, someone with a phobia of flying may miss out on meaningful family gatherings that require airplane travel. Living with a phobia may feel like your life experiences and opportunities are limited due to the need to accommodate the phobia. Phobias, if left undiagnosed and untreated, can wreck relationships, autonomy, and self-confidence.
What exactly is a phobia? A phobia is an overwhelming and persistent fear that leads someone to completely avoid a specific situation wherein the phobia may be triggered. In a more clinical sense, phobias are often nested under the category of anxiety disorders. A proper diagnosis and treatment plan is an important step to overcoming phobias. In many cases, phobias can be treated effectively.
Some common phobias include: Fear of spiders, fear of heights, fear of dogs, fear of germs, fear of needles, and more. Many people are phobic of less common things as well. There isn’t necessarily a specific single cause to explain why phobias develop. It may be cultural, genetic, related to a previous incident or a combination of many other factors.
The good news is that phobias are treatable through a combination of evidence-based practices like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). These are the practices that have the highest success rate in helping to eradicate the hold of phobias.
ERP is the most commonly used therapy in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to treat phobias. The cognitive behavioral therapy approach works well to redefine phobic-specific behaviors along with the treatment of ERP wherein a therapist exposes a client to the object and anxiety to desensitize. For example, a person with a fear of needles may have formed a strong, negative association with doctors and bloodwork and thus avoid necessary medical appointments completely. Through the use of exposure therapy, the individual would begin looking at photos of needles, learning about bloodwork procedures and so on, until the negative response is gone. Through repeated exposure and a cognitive behavioral approach, the client may learn that needles and the behavior associated with the fear of needles can be healed.
Before starting treatment, there are some helpful guidelines. For those seeking support, treating phobias is a commitment. With proper therapeutic guidance, working through phobias is a regular, daily practice. There is, unfortunately, no quick fix. However, living with an untreated anxiety, such as a phobia can be a lot harder. By taking control back from anxiety and rebalancing your relationship with your fears, you too can find freedom from your phobia.