Psychopathology Sum-Up: Specific Phobias

It’s Friday, which means a mental health summary. This post is about so called ‘specific’ phobias, which excludes social phobia. Another Sum-Up will deal with that. 

The Overview:

Specific phobias are a category of anxiety disorders. (Anxiety disorders also include OCD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, among others.) Specific phobias are can be seen as the Mad Libs of anxiety: “fear of [insert a noun here]“. The fear is paralyzing, and often interferes with normal functioning, but most are easily cured. In fact, this makes them unusual–one of the only disorders where upon discovery, we know what to do, and we know you’ll most likely be cured.

Specific phobias are also fairly common, and occur most often in adolescence. When the phobia interferes with functioning, people are quite good about seeking treatment. Otherwise, most people avoid the trigger (sometimes going to great lengths), and live their lives. Common phobias include flying, enclosed places, heights, dogs, escalators, spiders, and snakes. (NIMH)

Phobia Treatment:

Blood/Injury/Injection Treatment: Fear of needles, blood, wounds, injuries, or some combination thereof is known as BII. In severe cases, just reading about injuries, even in fiction, can cause wooziness. Treatment is actually different from other phobias, because it’s hard to unlearn fainting. Clients are taught to tense all of their muscles at once when triggered, which raises blood pressure.

Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy can work in a single day, which is kinda cool. Of course, it takes all day, but no other therapy is quite so simple. Client and therapist both decide on a series of experiences from mild to very scary, and work through each. For instance, looking at a picture of a snake, then talking about snakes, imagining a snake, being in the same room as a snake, being near a snake, and finally, holding a snake. Update: Cuttlefish expands on this very very well–there’s a few types of ET, and they’re very different from each other.

Cognitive therapy: Talking through excessively fearful thought processes and challenging them. This is often combined with exposure therapy.

Medication: Never been shown to be effective.

Important Note: Just because phobias are irrational fears and easily treated does not mean you should badger, mock, or otherwise force someone to face their phobia. It’s rude and callous. Don’t do it.

Things Specific Phobias are Not:

Disliking things: hating dogs is not the same as being scared of them.

Rational fear: I think we can all agree that it’s rational to fear the idea of a plane crash, or developing a terminal illness. However, it’s slightly less rational to refuse to look at planes because of a fear of plane crashes. Phobias are irrational fears.

If any information is incorrect, please note it in the comments! However, I am going to ask for citations. I have access to journals as a student, so no worries if it appears behind a paywall. Also, please chime in with your own experiences, misconceptions, myths you’ve heard, and any book suggestions!

Previous Psychopathology Sum-Ups:
Bipolar Disorder