A phobia is an anxiety response which manifests as excessive or unreasonable fear to a specific stimulus.
People with a phobic response will only display exaggerated fear or anxiety in the presence, or possible presence (feeling of dread), of the specific feared stimulus.
It is focused on a very specific stimulus, not a generalized fear.
Phobias can be categorized as follows:
Animals: Fear of Spiders, Insects, Dogs, Cats, Snakes, and so forth
Natural Environment: Fear of Natural Events such as Lightning, Snow Storms, or Heights
Blood-Injection-Injury: Fear of Needles, Sight of Blood, or possible Medical Procedure
Situations: Elevators, Tunnels, Bridges, Highways, Close Spaces, Concerts or Public Transport
A person with a phobia will respond with dread leading up to the event, and fear or even a panic attack while presented with the stimuli. This response can interfere with daily routine and causes great distress.
Treatments for Phobias have very positive results. While there are many ways to treat phobias, the quickest and most effective treatment is learning to manage the fear response while altering our thoughts about the stimulus (object of fear) itself.
This approach is called Systematic Desensitization. During this treatment, we will create a hierarchy of anxiety causing situations while learning and mastering ways to control our fear. It is important to note that each level of the hierarchy would create increasingly higher levels of fear.
For example, you have a dog phobia. We begin by creating the hierarchy.
01. Picture of a small dog
02. Picture of a large dog
03. Picture of an angry dog
04. Sound of a dog barking
05. Video of a dog barking in anger
06. Exposure to meeting a dog in a large room
07. Exposure to dog within 3 ft.
08. Exposure to petting a dog
09. Exposure to dog off leash
10. Exposure to multiple dogs off leash – Dog park
With each level, we will pair a specialized fear management technique to break the connection of the dog and the fear response. Allowing time to master the fear management skills is necessary prior to moving to the next level. Slowly, the person will be able to maintain their fear response and thus disengage the stimulus (dog) from production of the phobic response (fear).
The key is moving the treatment into the real world and eventually meeting the fear producing phobia head on. This is a slow process and takes some time to master. In the end, you will win over the phobia.