Phobia is defined as a clear fear of a specific object or social situation. This is different to general anxiety which can attach to a wide and changing array of objects, people or events.
Examples of common phobias are:
- public performance (giving presentations, speeches)- this is the most common phobia
- air travel
- small spaces
- insects, animals
- bodily fluids
- medical/dental procedures (includes injections)
How do phobias develop?
Phobias can develop through direct personal experience of the stimuli that was in some way distressing.
For example, being frightened by a scowling dog, or being bitten by a dog as a child, may lead to overwhelming fear and avoidance of all dogs.
Phobias can also be learned through modelling.
For example, a child watching a parent demonstrate fear over a dog may teach a child to be afraid of all dogs.
There is also some suggestion that some fears may have a universal quality for example a fear of snakes and spiders appears common across most if not all cultures.
Phobia are treated through relaxation training and exposure therapy.
Relaxation training helps individuals regulate the cognitive and physical signs of distress which can lead to anxiety and panic when confronted by the feared stimuli.
Relaxation training can include breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and guided visualisation.
Graduated Exposure therapy, otherwise known as systematic desensitisation, involves a psychologist guiding a person through a series of real or imaginary phobic scenarios from least frightening to most freightening in order to confront specific fears.
Through this gradual process, the person learns to cope more effectively with their fear, build a sense of resilience and mastery, and with practise, the fear stimuli trigger less if any fear response.
For example, an individual has a fear of giving presentations at work.
With the assistance of the therapist a hierarchy is developed, for example with say least frightening being speaking in a peer meeting, to presenting to a supervisor, then presenting to a small group and lastly presenting to a larger group. When the individual masters their fear response they move to the next level until they can experience presenting to a large group without fear.
Phobias can also be helped through assertiveness training, self-esteem and self-understanding approaches.
At Integrative Psychology a psychologist will explore how your phobia developed and help you to address your phobia so you stop feeling afraid and restricted by avoidance.