What is Phobia?

A phobia is defined as an irrational and intense fear of a situation, activity or thing that causes one to want to avoid it.

Phobias are classified as an anxiety disorder and can be divided into three types:

  • Specific Phobia: An unreasonable or irrational fear related to exposure to specific objects or situations
  • Social Phobia: An intense fear in social situations
  • Agoraphobia (severe anxiety in situations where it is perceived to be difficult or embarrassing to escape, for example, wide open spaces and crowds).

Causes of Phobia

While there is no one specific known cause for phobias, it is thought that phobias run in families, are influenced by culture and life events.
    • Genetics – Research has shown that certain phobias run in families.  For example, twins who are raised separately in different locations may develop the same phobias.  However, many people with phobias have no relatives with the condition.
    • Cultural Factors – Some phobias occur only in certain cultural groups.  An example is Taijin Kyofusho, a social phobia that appears almost exclusively in Japan.  This is a fear of offending or harming others in social situations.  It is markedly different from a traditional social phobia in which the sufferer is afraid of being personally embarrassed on humiliated.  It is therefore possible that culture plays some role in phobia development.
    • Life Experience – Many phobias are based in real-life events that may or may not be consciously remembered.  A phobia of dogs, for example, may stem from being bitten as a small child.  A social phobia may also develop from teenage awkwardness or childhood bullying.

Symptoms of Phobia

Phobias vary in severity from person to person.
Some people are able to manage their phobia symptoms and face the feared object, although with a great sense of terror.  Others are motivated by the phobia to avoid the feared situation, sometimes at great personal cost and impact to their quality of life.

Common phobia symptoms include:

        • Terror – A persistent and overwhelming fear of the object or situation
        • Physical Symptoms – Dizziness, shaking, sweating, trouble thinking clearly, nausea, rapid heartbeat and trouble breathing
        • Obsessive Thoughts – Difficulty thinking about anything other than the fear
        • Desire to Flee – An intense instinct to leave the situation that is causing the phobic reaction
        • Anticipatory Anxiety – Persistent worrying about upcoming events that involve the phobic object or situation

Treatment for Phobia

Think Psychological Services utilises a number of techniques to help you overcome your phobia. These include:

        • Counselling
        • Cognitive behavioural therapy – a type of counselling that explores your thoughts, feelings and behaviour to develop practical ways of effectively dealing with the phobia.
        • Desensitization – Many simple phobias can be treated using a form of behaviour therapy known as desensitization or self-exposure therapy.  It involves being gradually exposed over a period of time to the object or situation of your fear so that you start to feel less anxious about it.