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Specific Phobias

Definition of Specific Phobias:

What is a phobia? Specific phobias are irrational or abrupt fears of an object or situation. Most individuals who suffer from specific phobias do not have a traumatic onset, such as fearing a spider and being bit by a spider. Specific phobias cause individuals to experience anxiety that can lead them to avoid situations or objects. Individuals are usually aware that their fear is irrational or excessive, but their fear occurred during childhood and has overtaken their life.

In the United States, it is estimated that 7%-9% of adults suffer from a specific phobia. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by specific phobias.

All children have certain items or situations that make them uneasy or fearful, but most are nevertheless able to carry out daily activities without incident despite having a phobia. In contrast, children with specific phobias continually avoid specific situations or objects due to intense fear and anxiety, and the avoidance and distress consequently disrupt their lives in considerable ways. Upwards of 7%-9% of children are estimated to have specific phobias (Schniering, Hudson & Rapee, 2000).

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Types of Specific Phobias:

  • Natural environment phobias (thunderstorms, water, or height)
  • Animal phobias (dogs, snakes, or spiders)
  • Blood, injection, and injury phobias (sight of blood, receiving injections, or any bodily damage)
  • Situational phobias (elevators, airplanes, or boats)
  • Other phobias (foods, sounds, or vomiting)

Phobia Treatment:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is the most effective method of treatment for specific phobias, specifically using exposure therapy, which can include in-vivo, imaginal, or media-augmented therapy. As avoidance is a large part of the problem with anxiety, therapists accompany individuals into the avoided places and situations, and/or help them confront avoided thoughts, providing instruction and appropriate levels of reassurance. These strategies increase confidence in mastering similar situations in the future. (CBT) can be administered in individual or group formats. It is short-term (e.g., 20 sessions) and problem-focused. The most studied psychotherapy for depression, CBT has the largest weight of evidence for its efficacy.

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