Phobias are more common than you think and, for many people, a phobia can have a significant impact on their lives. This includes affecting how they interact with the world on a daily basis. However, there are phobia treatment options available for those who want help in addressing and treating their phobias.
What is a Phobia?
The Mayo Clinic defines a phobia as, “an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger but provokes anxiety and avoidance.” The definition goes beyond feeling anxious in certain situations, but instead is based on fear which can affect how you go about your daily life. Some common phobias that you may have heard of include:
- Claustrophobia: fear of enclosed spaces.
- Arachnophobia: fear of spiders
- Agoraphobia: fear of open spaces and crowds.
- Germophobia (Mysophobia): fear of germs.
Effects of Phobias
People who struggle with phobias may take extraordinary steps to avoid them, such as not going outside or washing their hands excessively. Over time, this can affect how you interact with people in your job, at home, and in other social situations. Also, being afraid all the time takes a lot of energy, which can have an impact on mood. Because phobias are based on fear, which is something that has been programmed into our brains, treatment of a phobia requires a multi-pronged attack. These can include therapy, medication, and behavior modification.
Using Medication for Phobia Treatment
There are several kinds of medications available to help people who suffer from phobias. The Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Antidepressants: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) that affect serotonin, the brain, and mood.
- Beta Blockers: Used to block the effects adrenaline has on the body.
- Sedatives: Used to help with relaxation, but could be addictive.
Medications should only be used after consultation with a doctor and your therapist to determine what is appropriate for you in the treatment of your symptoms. Many phobias can easily be treated without the need for any medication.
Talking to a Therapist for Phobia Treatment
Consulting with a therapist trained in addressing phobias is another treatment option. A therapist can provide a non-judgmental environment where you can explore the reasons why you have a phobia. A therapist can coach you on different strategies that can help address your symptoms, and may give you tasks to perform out of session that can be helpful in relieving symptoms. A skilled therapist can create a treatment plan specifically designed to meet your needs.
Using Exposure Therapy for Phobia Treatment
One way a therapist can help guide you through phobia treatment is by the use of exposure therapy. Johanna S. Kaplan, Ph.D., and David F. Tolin, Ph.D., in Psychiatric Times identify steps practitioners can take for exposure therapy. These include:
- Develop an exposure hierarchy by identifying phobias and ranking them.
- Conduct exposure gradually and systematically.
- Elimination of “safety behaviors” that contribute to the phobia, such as washing hands.
- Challenging cognitive distortions that affect “catastrophizing.”
Exposure therapy should be practiced in consultation with a trained therapist. Remember that too much exposure too soon can be overwhelming, which could be a detriment to treatment. For instance, if you are afraid of crowds it would not be the best idea to drop you in Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve. However, attending a small gathering or meeting in your community might be a better way to start.
Having a phobia doesn’t mean you are crazy. Your brain is wired to identify dangers and to act accordingly to maintain preservation. When the brain says there is danger when none exists, the consequences can be problematic. This can have a negative effect on how you interact with the world. However, by combining medications, talking to a therapist, and exposure exercises can find relief from your phobia.
Questions, Concerns, Thoughts?
I invite you to call me for a free 15 – minute phone consultation to discuss your specific needs and to answer any questions you have about anxiety, treatment and my practice. Please visit my website @ www.theanxietydocseattle.com or call me directly @ (206) 745-4933.