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Specific Phobia in Adults

What is specific Phobia?

Some people react to objects, activities or situations (the phobic stimulus) by imagining or irrationally exaggerating the danger. Their feelings of panic, fear or terror are completely out of proportion to the actual threat. Sometimes the mere thought of the phobic stimulus, or the sight of it on TV, is enough to cause a reaction. These types of excessive reactions may be indicative of a specific phobia. Specific Phobia is a fear of a particular object, animal or situation. The fear is great enough that you wish to avoid the situation or experience it only with considerable anxiety.

Fears and phobias are very common. In a recent national survey, 60% of the people interviewed reported that they feared some situation or thing. The most common fears were fears of bugs, mice, snakes, bats, heights, water, public transportation, storms, closed spaces, tunnels, and bridges, Many people reported that they feared several things and that they consciously avoided them. In fact, over 11% of the people indicated that their fears qualified as specific phobias. That is, their fears were persistent and associated with intense anxiety; they avoided or wanted to avoid certain situations; they realized that their fears were excessive or unreasonable; and their fears resulted in distress and difficulty in their normal lives.

What are the Causes of Specific Phobia?

There are several causes of specific phobia. Psychologists make a distinction between how you learned to fear something and why you still fear that thing even years later.

Some theorists suggest that people tend to develop phobias about objects, animals, or situations that were dangerous in prehistoric times. For example, bugs, mice, snakes, many other animals, heights, strangers, bridges, and water were all potentially dangerous for early humans. In a wild environment, these fears were very adaptive and useful. People with these fears were better prepared to avoid contamination, poisonous bites, falling off cliffs or bridges, being murdered by strangers, or drowning. But in today’s technological world, these fears are no longer as accurate as they once were.

A second origin of phobias is through learning- either connecting a bad experience with the thing you are afraid of (for example, perhaps you were bitten by a dog and developed a fear of dogs) or observing someone who is afraid and learning from their fear (for example, perhaps other family members had a fear in flying and you learned that fear from them).

A third reason for phobias may be distortions in thinking. For example, a phobia may be based on incorrect information, on a tendency to predict the worst, on a tendency not to use evidence that challenges the phobia, or on a belief that you cannot tolerate anxiety.

What is expected of you as a Patient?

Overcoming fears may require you to gradually put yourself into situations that make you anxious. You should let your therapist know which situations or things make you most anxious, what kinds of thoughts you have about those things, and whether you are willing to experience some anxiety in order to overcome your fears. You therapist will guard you through gradual exposure to these situations. You will have to carry out some self-help homework between therapy sessions, with which you will practice many of the same things that you are learning in the sessions with your therapist.


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