A phobia is intense anxiety and fear of a specific thing (e.g., snakes). Whilst it is common for all individuals to feel anxious or fearful of certain situations, animals, or objects, for some people this fear and anxiety is totally out of proportion to the actual threat and can subsequently interfere substantially with day-to-day living. Phobias are very common and affect people of all ages and walks of life. Whilst the precise cause of the phobia might vary, all phobias share several features in common. First, exposure to the feared object (e.g. a snake) generally causes feelings of intense fear, dread, and panic. The ‘fright-flight’ response is activated which causes symptoms in the body such as increased heart rate, faster breathing, upset stomach, trembling, sweating, and muscle tension. People with phobias recognise that their fear is irrational but they still feel an intense desire to run away or avoid the object. Where avoidance isn’t possible, the person generally endures the situation or object with fear and dread.
You can have a phobia of anything and we see individuals at our clinic with all types of phobias, but some of the more common phobias in adults include:
- Insects (e.g., butterflies, bees, grasshoppers, moths, cockroaches)
- Small enclosed spaces (e.g., lifts, tunnels)
- Flying on airplanes / flight
- Going to the dentist
- Water (ocean, lake or pool)
- Thunder, storms and/or lightning
Blood / Injury-Injection
- Injections/ needles
- Blood tests
- Blood – seeing bloody ‘gory’ images
- Medical procedures
- Vomiting (’emetophobia’)
One of the most common and effective treatment options for phobias is Cognitive-Behaviour-Therapy (CBT). The main CBT techniques that are used to treat phobias include challenging unhelpful thoughts and exposure therapy.
Thought challenging involves the psychologist working with the client to question how accurate their thoughts are about the feared object. Strategies are taught to help them change any inaccurate or unhelpful thoughts and replace them with more realistic interpretations and expectations about the feared object.
Thought challenging strategies are often paired with ‘exposure therapy’ where the client and psychologist work together to gradually build up the intensity and frequency of exposure to the feared stimulus. We recognise that this is difficult for any person suffering from a phobia and treatment is always conducted in a compassionate and caring manner. During exposure therapy, the therapist may begin by using imaginal exposure which could involve the client writing a story or verbally discussing the feared situation, activity, animal, or object. They would learn to relax and feel less anxious whilst doing this. Then slowly the intensity of this exposure is increased until, for example, the client is comfortable enough with coming into contact with the feared object, much like the way they might do in real-life situations (e.g., see a real snake from a distance). Thought challenging alongside exposure therapy can significantly improve the way someone thinks about the feared object and allow them to feel much less anxious around the feared object.
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for any type of Phobia, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.