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The Development of Phobias

By Senna Rogoyski

Highlights

  • Phobias are irrational fears that cause great distress

  • There are many different types

  • Several treatments such as therapy or medication

What does having a phobia mean?


A phobia is an irrational, unrealistic, uncontrollable fear of a specific object, situation, activity, or animal. As it is usually categorized as a type of anxiety disorder, there are many degrees of severity to having a phobia. The typical reaction to this either causes many to avoid their phobia or endure it with great distress. For some, the fear that one feels can be so excessive that this could end up making them go through great lengths to avoid the source of the fear in their everyday life. Although not many have to go through these extreme cases, about 19 million Americans have one or more phobias that vary from mild to severe.


Type of Phobias


There happen to be over 400 recognized phobias, each one with a specific name. Although a phobia can technically be anything, phobias have been categorized into two different types.


One of the categories of phobias is a specific phobia(aka “simple” phobia). This refers to having irrational fears over a particular object or situations such as

  • Animals : cats, spiders, insects, etc.

  • Natural Environment : water, dirt, storms, and etc.

  • Situations : flying, visiting a dentist, and etc.

  • Bodily Ideas: needles, vomit, blood, and etc.

This category typically develops in early childhoods as they are often seen between the ages of 15 and 20. These phobias tend to become less severe as one grows older and may go away over time.


Another category of phobias is complex phobias. Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than specific phobias and unlike simple phobias, they tend to develop during adulthood. Typically, complex phobias are related to a deep fear/anxiety about a specific circumstance. Examples of complex phobias include:


Agoraphobia


This is typically known as the fear of open spaces. People with this phobia end up feeling severely anxious when they are placed in a situation that is difficult to escape from. However because this phobia is extremely difficult to avoid, phobias like this end up becoming debilitating.


Social Phobia


This is known as the fear of social situations as it is also referred to as a social anxiety disorder. People with this phobia tend to struggle to speak in front of others, go out shopping, and even eat out. Since people are very often faced with these kinds of situations every day, this can become extremely life-impairing for the person.


Causes of Phobias


Although phobias can weaken and harm the lives of many, there is no single cause to how they can develop. Research suggests that the typical causes for a phobia are related to genetic and environmental factors, or a very distressing first impression of the fear. As a phobia may be contributed from a past, specific trauma that occurred in the person’s life, it can also develop from a response that has been embedded in their mind from a parent or sibling.


Treatment


Fortunately, to these extreme fears, there are treatments one can take in order to reduce their fear.


Simple phobias can be treated with desensitization or self-exposure therapy. This means slowly coming in contact with or experiencing what they fear and therefore getting over their fear similarly to allergies.


Complex phobias are typically more on the extreme side, taking more time and effort to treat. The treatments for these types of phobias are

  • Therapies such as

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy: teach people to recognize their irrational thinking and behaviors they take that maintain and aggravate their phobia

    • Psychotherapy : another technique similarly aimed to identify unrealistic ideas and habits

    • Counseling

  • Medications in order to calm and help with the anxiety like​

    • Tranquilizers

    • Beta blockers

    • Antidepressants


References

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