At any given time, approximately 9 out of every 100 adults in the United States suffers from a Specific Phobia (National Institute of Mental Health), with lifetime prevalence rates of approximately 12%.
What is a Specific Phobia?
A Specific Phobia is defined as a significant fear or anxiety about a specific object (e.g., dogs) or situation (e.g., flying on an airplane, heights, seeing blood).
The object or situation is either completely avoided when possible, or when avoidance is not possible, the individual "white knuckles" through the situation with extreme anxiety and distress. Importantly, to be diagnosed with a Specific Phobia, the fear and anxiety in response to the object and/or situation(s) must be disproportionate to the actual danger. In addition, the phobia must impact a person't life and cause impairment in domains such as in occupational settings, social situations, relationships, educational achievement, etc.
For example, an individual with a Specific Phobia of needles may avoid doctor's visits, hospitals, or getting vaccines, even if doing so might put them at risk. Or an individual with a driving phobia may be unable to obtain employment or spend time with friends or family. An individual with a phobia of flying on airplanes may miss out on promotions at work due to not being able to attend important meetings or conferences, or may miss out on opportunities to see loved ones or go on vacations, even when the person highly values doing these activities.
How do you Treat Specific Phobias?
Exposure-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a great option for the treatment of Specific Phobias. Treatment will include psychoeducation and helping the individual identify and alter misinterpretations of danger. The individual will be asked to face their fears, in a structured and controlled way with the support and help of their therapist. Exposures help the individual learn safety associations, so that their danger associations diminish. Avoidance is thought to perpetuate fear because, without exposure to the feared stimulus, there aren't sufficient opportunities for adaptive learning to take place. Confronting feared objects/situations while employing safety behaviors or "white knuckling" through a situation also inhibits safety learning. Therefore, removing avoidance and safety behaviors and asking the individual to face their fears allow for a re-programming of the individual's "alarm system." At OakHeart, we can help you overcome your fears and get back to living a full life! To make an appointment, please call 630-570-0050.