A phobia is an overwhelming and unreasonable fear of an object or situation that poses little real danger. Unlike the brief anxiety most people feel when they give a speech or take a test, a phobia is long-lasting, causes intense physical and psychological reactions, and can affect your ability to function normally at work or in social settings
There are many types of phobias. Social phobia is the fear of social situations that may involve scrutiny or judgment by others. Specific phobia includes many different fears. Some examples are fear of certain animals, bridges, claustrophobia (tight spaces), heights, bridges, tunnels, hydrophobia (fear of water) agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and going outside), and many more. Many People suffer from these fears on a daily basis. So how do we conquer our fears?
The most evidenced based practice is by cognitive behavioral therapy. Utilizing behavior modification and cognitive techniques you can change your thoughts and behaviors, thus, making you less fearful of whatever your fear may be.
For many phobias, it is often helpful to utilize desensitization and exposure therapy. This helps you change your response to the situation or stimuli that you fear by gradually exposing you to that fear. Gradual and repeated exposure can help reduce the anxiety associated with your fear. This method should only be done with support from a healthcare professional. (Don’t try this at home kids!). Taking small steps in the right direction can help promote a less fearful outlook towards the stimuli.
For most phobias, Cognitive behavioral therapy is a more comprehensive approach of therapy. It incorporates the behavioral aspect of exposure and includes learning ways to cope with the feared object and anxiety. With your therapist you can learn alternate ways to view your fear and explore automatic thoughts and beliefs that may have been associated with your phobia. These automatic thoughts may have been contributing to increased fear of the stimuli. By exploring these beliefs you can create awareness and open yourself up to new thoughts. Then you can develop a sense of mastery and control over your thoughts and feelings.
Combining desensitization and cognitive techniques is a great way to treat phobias. Another cognitive technique used is the hierarchy. A hierarchy is a list that you create that quantifies your fears from less fearful to most fearful. This is a great way to start treatment of phobias because it puts into perspective how fearful a situation or stimuli might be. You start addressing the least fearful first and work your way to the top. This also makes the treatment more palatable because you are treating each situation on its own.
Relaxation techniques such as visualization, imagery, and deep breathing are also used in conjunction with behavioral approaches to treatment. These techniques are utilized throughout the desensitization process to help calm and control the person with the phobia. They are helpful throughout the therapeutic process.
Utilizing Cognitive Behavioral techniques combined with support from family and friends can help treat most phobias. Letting your family and support system be aware of your phobia so they can support and encourage is helpful to keeping the therapeutic process working outside of the therapeutic environment. Conquering a fear is one of the toughest things to accomplish, but also the most empowering.
KC Putterman LMHC,HC