Phobia Treatment

photo credit: marragem

photo credit: marragem

There's a vast encyclopedia of fears and phobias, and pretty much any object, experience, situation you can think of, there is someone who has a phobia of it. ~ Scott Stossel

If you have ophidiophobia, or a fear of snakes, feel free to contact me; I can send you the text without the image.  

Some practitioners believe that phobias are reflexes that originated as normal fears to dangerous stimuli, but that have generalized to include harmless stimuli.  The goal of phobia treatment is extinction, or the disappearance of the fear response.  There are many ways of treating phobias, all of which involve some sort of exposure to the negative stimulus under safe and controlled conditions, the theory being that repeated exposure without any resultant harm will eventually lead to a fading of the phobia symptoms.

 Some possible treatments:

  • Counter Conditioning involves consciously learning how to relax: how relaxation feels, how to deliberately invoke it.  Exposure is then done slowly, and systematically, in small, pre-established increments so as to not overwhelm the client.  Throughout the process, the client practices relaxation in the face of exposure.  I've mentioned in a previous EMDR post that you can't stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (the stress response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming response) at the same time; in other words, you can't become both more stressed and less stressed simultaneously.  With this method you're gaining mastery at emotional, physical, and cognitive self-regulation all the while disproving the false connection between the stimulus and the fear reaction.  This process can take a long time, and can still be quite distressing, depending on the intensity of the phobia.  
  • There's another form of exposure therapy called Flooding, where the exposure is done all at once ("in vivo" (live), or by using imagination), and maintained until the fear response dissipates.  This dissipation is called habituation; it's what happens when you become used to a noise and stop hearing it, it's why other people might be able to smell your perfume long after you have grown used to it.  There are many obvious concerns about this method, the main one being undue distress for the client.   
  • Some therapists have begun to use Virtual Reality as an alternative way to control exposure to a stimulus.  This would land somewhere between imaginative and in vivo, and can be very cost effective when the phobia is something extravagant like flying.
  •  It will come as no surprise to anyone who has read my previous posts that I prefer to use EMDR.  I'm not going to repeat everything I've said in previous EMDR posts (although I encourage you to read them), but I will say that I've seen phobias resolved remarkably quickly.  EMDR is accelerated processing, so the extent of time in which you're being emotionally exposed the the stimulus is vastly shortened.  It also has its own generalization effect, one that seems to mirror and address phobic generalization; this is something that straight exposure therapy doesn't seem to have.

A few interesting phobias:

  • Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia- Fear of long words.
  • Allodoxaphobia- Fear of opinions.
  • Coulrophobia- Fear of clowns.  
  • Linonophobia- Fear of string.
  • Gamophobia- Fear of marriage.
  • Melophobia- Fear or hatred of music.
  • Paraskavedekatriaphobia- Fear of Friday the 13th.