Though we often use the word phobia in casual conversation, many people are unaware of the extent of fear and distress they cause. Specific phobias are serious mental health conditions that require professional attention and support. This article will discuss specific phobias in more detail and reveal which treatment for phobias has proven to be most effective for helping individuals overcome debilitating fear.
An Overview of Specific Phobias
- Natural environment type: includes fear of heights or storms
- Animal type: includes fear of dogs or spiders
- Blood-injection-injury type: includes fear of receiving an injection or seeing blood
- Situational type: includes fear of enclosed places or airplanes
- Other types: includes fear of choking or vomiting
Even though individuals know their phobia is irrational, they still experience overwhelming anxiety and distress. It is important to distinguish between fear and phobia. While someone may fear airplanes and experience discomfort when flying, people with a phobia of airplanes are likely to rearrange their lives to avoid flying altogether, even if that means missing significant events like a family member’s wedding. Phobias are more intense in the amount of distress they cause and their impact on individuals’ day-to-day functioning.
When people living with phobias encounter their feared object or situation, they may experience severe anxiety or even have a panic attack. The distress they feel around that specific situation combined with continuous engagement in avoidance behavior can significantly impact their ability to carry out daily responsibilities. However, treatment for phobias is available to reduce distress and help those living with specific phobias improve their quality of life.
For more articles and information about psychotherapy, visit https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychotherapy/.
The Most Effective Treatment for Phobias – Exposure Therapy
Research has found exposure therapy to be a highly effective treatment for phobias. Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy in which a therapist guides individuals in gradually confronting their feared thoughts, sensations, and situations.
By first establishing a fear hierarchy, patients start with something that causes the least discomfort, then, over time, work their way towards exposures that evoke more anxiety. It’s important to understand that this process occurs in small steps at a manageable pace determined by the person and the therapist. For someone afraid of spiders (arachnophobia), it might start with looking at online images and videos of spiders in the therapist’s office.
There are a variety of exposure techniques that a therapist may use. One is called imaginal exposure, where individuals are asked to describe or write down a scenario featuring their specific fear. Another technique called in vivo exposure involves individuals taking gradual steps to confront their fears in real life. Virtual reality (VR) technology may also be used in situations where in vivo exposures are less accessible. Through VR technology, individuals’ can practice experiencing their feared situations (such as flying on a plane) while in the safe environment of a therapist’s office.
Many people living with phobias may be hesitant or afraid to try exposure therapy. Their reluctance is entirely understandable, as they have built their life around avoiding what they fear, and exposure therapy requires breaking out of the pattern of avoidance. However, it’s important to recognize that avoidance is exactly what keeps individuals stuck in their perpetual fear and distress. While avoidance provides immediate relief in the short term, it only serves to intensify anxiety in the long run. This is why exposure therapy is thought to be so effective as compared to talk therapy, which does not address the behavioral component of avoidance. Simply working to reframe irrational thoughts is often not enough; there must also be changes in behavior.
Exposure therapy works by facilitating the process of habituation, in which a person “gets used” to the stimuli over time and therefore experiences less distress around it. While engaging in exposure therapy, individuals can practice tolerating discomfort when it arises and recognize that their perceived fear is often more pronounced than their actual fear. Exposure therapy can also help individuals build new pathways in the brain as they confront their feared object without a disastrous outcome.
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About the Author:
This blog post was developed in collaboration with BetterHelp.
BetterHelp is an online portal that provides direct-to-consumer access to mental health services. The online counseling and therapy services are provided through web-based interaction as well as phone and text communication.
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