If a person suspects that he or she or a loved one is suffering from phobia, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and seek the help of a professional as soon as possible.
What is a phobia?
A phobia is an anxiety disorder and usually occurs as a persistent, illogical fear of a specific object or situation. The person who suffers from it will go to the limit to fix these objects or situations avoid. That fear is usually too unrealistic and is thus seen by the person experiencing the fear.
If the person fails to avoid the situation or object (eg a spider or a meeting), it causes intense discomfort or anxiety and the person struggles to complete his / her current activity. Phobias are generally divided into three categories:
- Specific phobia: Fear of something specific, e.g. spiders, heights, snakes, nuts, etc. Most people experience some fear of these things, but someone with complete phobia will do anything to avoid these objects or situations.
- Social Phobia / Social Anxiety Disorder: Fear of other people or social situations, e.g. embarrassment or self-awareness in other people's presence, avoidance of public situations or conversations with others.
- Agoraphobia: A common fear of leaving one's home or a specific "safe" area, with possible panic attacks that may follow. This anxiety can also be triggered by specific phobias, such as a fear of germs, public places, shopping malls, etc.
What are the symptoms of a specific phobia?
The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), accepted worldwide as the most authoritative source:
- To be diagnosable, there must be a repetitive pattern of clear and persistent irrational fear being triggered by a specific object or situation (eg, flying, animals, injection).
(In children, this fear can be expressed by crying, a rage [tantrum] to "throw", freeze or cling to someone.)
- Exposure to these situations or objects causes immediate anxiety, which is physically detectable (eg crying, panic attacks).
- The situation or object is actively avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
- The fear or fear reaction is disproportionate to the real danger posed by the object or situation (cultural norms taken into account).
- The fear / anxiety / avoidance is long-lasting and has been occurring for at least six months.
- The fear / anxiety / avoidance causes considerable discomfort and / or adversely affects the person's functioning (at home, school, work, social, etc.).
- The disorder is not better explained by another diagnosis, e.g. including those of agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress or separation anxiety.
Phobia triggers (triggers)
A person may exhibit a phobia for one or more of the following:
- animals (eg spiders, snakes, insects, dogs, etc.)
- natural environment (s) (e.g. altitudes, storms, water, thunder)
- injections, injuries (eg needles, certain medical procedures, blood)
- a particular situation (eg in aircraft, lifts, when [enclosed] places)
- others (e.g. situations that can lead to choking or vomiting, loud noises, costume characters - mostly in children)
Treatment of a specific phobia
Why is treatment needed for a phobia?
A phobia is a more serious degree of anxiety. In some cases, there is even an inability of the person to walk out of his / her front door without fear. Help and support from a clinical psychologist, or another category of psychologist with experience in treating this condition, is extremely important in treating this disorder. Appropriate psychotherapy is also often used in combination with medication to treat a phobia.
How is a phobia treated?
As with most psychological problems, it is necessary to seek professional help. A registered psychologist with experience in the treatment of phobias can work out a treatment plan with you to discuss the psychological approach that can be followed, as well as the other professionals to be involved. Often medication is needed and for that the psychologist can refer you to a psychiatrist, who will then do a full assessment and consideration for the appropriate medication. Some psychologists will also, depending on the process and stage, make / recommend practical suggestions that a client can try at home.
As a basis for working on the specific phobia, it is always necessary to make healthy lifestyle choices that promote mental health, e.g. regular exercise, healthy sleeping habits and balanced eating.
How do I support someone with a phobia?
It is important to remember that the person does not actively choose to have a phobia, or be afraid of a specific object or situation. He / she usually knows that fear does not make rational sense. It doesn't help to mock them or argue with them about it. The best thing one can do is encourage the person to get professional help for the phobia, especially if it impedes their functioning. The therapeutic process may be difficult and exhausting for them and it is precisely then that encouragement and support can be valuable.
How do I support someone with a specific phobia?
It is important to remember that the person does not actively choose to have a phobia, or to be afraid of a specific object or situation. He / she usually knows that fear does not make rational sense. It does not help to mock them or reason with them. The best thing one can do is to encourage the person to get professional help for the phobia, especially if it limits their functioning. The therapeutic process may be difficult and exhausting for them and it is precisely then that encouragement and support can be valuable.