Treatment of Phobias

A phobia is an unreasonable fear of a situation or an object. Some common phobias are fear of social situations, fear of flying, fear of heights, and fear of snakes. There are many other kinds of phobias. People can develop an unreasonable fear of almost anything. People have reported fear of AIDS, fear of the number thirteen, fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth, and many other fears. Most fears have some basis in reality. For instance, if you know someone with AIDS, you may develop a phobia about HIV and AIDS. Or if you almost drowned once, you may develop a phobia about water. If your father was afraid of enclosed spaces, you may have learned that fear from him. A fear is not considered a phobia until it causes you distress or it causes problems in your life somehow. If you are afraid of tidal waves but you spend your whole life in Kansas, it will probably not be a real problem. If you are afraid of heights and you get a job on the top floor of a high-rise building, it will be a problem.

There are many excellent treatments available for phobias. These usually involve specific behavioral techniques. These treatments are performed by mental health professionals with training in this area. One type of treatment is called flooding. This involves practically overloading the person with whatever it is that person is afraid of. One technique is called exposure with response prevention, which is a milder version of flooding. Desensitization gets people slowly used to the idea of the feared object or situation. All of these involve teaching the person that he or she can be around the situation or the object. Usually, the fear reaches a certain point and eventually decreases. These techniques take advantage of that fact. Hypnosis can also be very helpful in treating phobias. Certain medications, called beta blockers, can help in treating social phobia. Other medicines are often used to control the anxiety people get when they confront their phobias.

Sometimes people with phobias will go to great lengths to work around the phobia. Someone with a fear of AIDS may insist on testing and re-testing for HIV just because they were in the same room as someone who is gay. But it is much easier to get the right treatment instead. Do not feel silly about asking for help. Everyone is afraid of something!


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Last Updated: April 8, 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD