Are you afraid of a certain thing? Do you go out of your way to avoid this thing, and do your fears feel excessive? Counselling is very effective at treating phobias so that you can control and reduce your heightened fears.

What is a phobia?

We all experience fear and anxiety sometimes. But phobias can make day-to-day life difficult. A phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of something specific, like an object, place, animal or a situation. A phobia is classed as a type of anxiety disorder. Examples include an overwhelming or unreasonable fear of death (thanatophobia), a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) and a fear of insects like spiders.

Phobias are common. There are estimated to be 10 million people in the UK alone who have some form of phobia.

Talking therapy, like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is very effective at reducing heightened fears. If you are suffering from a phobia and you feel that your fears have made living your daily life more difficult, counselling from qualified therapists like those in our Harley Therapy network can help.

How do I know if I need therapy for a phobia?

Does the very thought of coming into contact with - or seeing a video/photo of - your feared object, situation, or place lead to intensely anxious feelings or panic attacks? If so, your phobia has come to dominate your life. Likewise, if your phobia is limiting your daily activities, support is available to you. Phobias can result in further anxiety disorders and depression when left untreated.

What are the different types of phobias?

There are many different types of phobias. According to the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), specific phobias typically fall within five general categories:

  • fears related to animals, eg. insects
  • fears related to the natural environment, eg. darkness, heights
  • fears related to blood, injury, or medical issues, eg. injections
  • fears related to specific situations, eg. flying, driving, lifts
  • other, eg. death, ducks, loud noises, drowning

However, some of the more common phobias have their own unique diagnoses, including:

What are the symptoms of phobias?

Physical symptoms of phobias can include:

  • increased anxiety
  • shortness of breath
  • panic attacks
  • irregular heartbeats or heart palpitations
  • sweating
  • trembling/shaking
  • dizziness
  • stomach pains
  • nausea
  • feeling numb or tingling sensations

Emotional symptoms of phobias can include:

  • an extended period of worrying
  • sadness
  • anger
  • guilt
  • feeling agitated

How are phobias treated?

The most common treatment for phobias is psychotherapy, in particular cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. These types of therapy have been shown to be very effective at treating phobias. Often phobias are treated with a combination of therapy and medications.

During CBT therapy, your therapist will help you to work through your fear in a structured way so that you can redefine and reframe your phobia and gradually regain your freedom. You will also learn techniques to manage your fear and identify triggers so that you can better control your reactions.

In exposure therapy, you work with a therapist to change your thoughts and feelings about the object or situation you fear through gradual exposure to it. Your therapist will guide you slowly through increasing levels of exposure alongside relaxation exercises, progressing at your own pace. For example, you may begin by thinking about the object or situation you fear. Next, you might look at pictures, noting what feelings emerge. Eventually, (this could be after some time), you might go to a place where that object or situation may be.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy may help with more complex phobias, too. Psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapists generally believe that your phobia stems from anxieties that originated during your childhood. As a way of coping, your original fear was either repressed or displaced onto the feared object or situation unconsciously. Psychodynamic therapists aim to help you understand these underlying causes of your phobia. In this way you can dismantle the phobia that has resulted from these earlier coping mechanisms, replacing it with new, healthier ways of coping.

Your doctor may recommend certain medications for anxiety. These medications aren't a treatment for your underlying phobias specifically, but they may help reduce the resulting feelings of anxiety and fear. This may also help you to undertake therapy treatment with less distress.

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