What are Specific Phobias? Specific Phobias are described as the excessive and persistent fear of an object or situation, to which exposure causes an anxious response. Adults and adolescents who have a specific phobia realise that their fears are excessive or unreasonable, but they are unable to control it. They either avoid the object or Example Imagesituation, or endure it with dread. Specific Phobia is diagnosed if the fear causes a significant impact on the person’s daily routine, their work, or their social life. The DSM-IV (the book used by psychologists to diagnose mental health problems) lists the following as criteria for specific phobias-

      • Noticeable and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable brought on by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation.
      • Exposure to the feared object or situation causes an immediate anxiety response.
      • The person avoids the feared of object/situation or endures it with intense anxiety or distress.

Picture- Mooney Mooney Bridge Pacific Hwy

                     North of Sydney

Specific Phobias are further divided by the DSM-IV into 5 categories. These are -

1) Animal Type- such as fear of dogs (cynophobia) fear of spiders (arachnophobia) or fear of frogs


2) Natural Environment Type- such as fear of the dark (nictophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia) or fear

    of storms (brontophobia).

3) Blood Injection, Injury Type- fear of seeing blood (hemaphobia) or an injury (traumatophobia),

    having an injection (trypanophobia) or other invasive medical procedure (tomophobia).

4) Situational Type- such as fear of bridges (gephyrophobia) fear of hospitals (nosocomephobia) or fear

    of closed spaces (claustrophobia).

5) Other Type- such as fear of choking (anginophobia), fear of vomiting (emetophobia), fear of loud

    sounds (ligyrophobia),  or clowns (coulrophobia).

How Common are Phobias? Anyone can develop a specific phobia. They can occur at any age but are most common in children. The prevalence of phobias in the general population is about 9% with the lifetime likelihood of a person developing a phobia at some stage being about 10 to 11%. Phobias tend to occur more frequently in women than men.

How Do Phobias Develop? A frequent origin for the onset of many specific phobias is the experience of trauma, for example fear of driving after a car accident, or fear of dogs after having been bitten by a dog. They can even develop after just witnessing a traumatic event such as a plane crash on television, or through modeling whereby a child develops a phobia after repeatedly observing a parents responses to a phobic situation. Another way phobias can develop is via classical conditioning whereby a person experiences a panic attack while traveling on a train, for example, and subsequently develops a fear of train travel (siderodromophobia). Click here for more about panic attacks.

What Can be Done to Overcome Phobias? Behavioural therapies have been long used to treat phobias. When conducted well they achieve a very high success rate in eliminating phobias permanently. In most cases significant improvements can be achieved very quickly providing phobia sufferers with significant relief from symptoms. Desensitisation procedures typically form the basis of treatment for phobias whereby you gradually approach the phobic situation to overcome your fear of it. Psychologists who specialise in treating phobias often also include a cognitive component as part of the treatment to help the phobic individual deal with anxiety producing thoughts associated with the phobia. When conducted well the process produces little discomfort but it is important to be guided through the therapy by a psychologist who is experienced at providing this form of treatment as there is typically a right way and a wrong way to approach the phobic situation. Simply approaching the fearful situation without the right knowledge and technique can lead to an increase in the phobic response and or increase the likelihood of unnecessary discomfort. Often desensitisation to phobias can be achieved using imagination techniques a method which has recently led to the use of virtual reality simulation/desensitisation. This method is also proving very effective in reducing and in many cases eliminating phobic symptoms without initially having to come into contact with the phobic situation.

Remember- Phobias can grow to become debilitating but typically are completely curable via well evidenced psychological therapies such as systematic exposure and cognitive restructuring. When conducted by an experienced specialist psychologist elimination of phobias can be achieved without significant discomfort. Contact staff at the centre if you would like to further discuss your phobia.


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