Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an extreme or irrational fear of an animal or insect; objects in the natural environment such as storms, heights or water; blood, injections or injury; situations such as public transport, tunnels, bridges, elevators, flying, driving or enclosed spaces; or other things such as fear of choking, vomiting, people in costumes.

Isn’t this the same as anxiety?

No it isn’t.

Fear is what you experience when directly confronted with threat or danger and is associated with the Fight or Flight response. Panic occurs when there is no real threat. Most phobic responses would be severe enough to meet the criteria for a panic attack.

Anxiety is a state that is about looking towards the future in some way. It is characterised by worry, tension and constantly being on the look out for a future threat.

Many people who have a specific phobia also experience ‘free floating’ or anticipatory anxiety in case they meet their feared object or situation. In more serious instances, they begin to organise their life around avoiding the things they are afraid of.

How common are specific phobias?

Mild fears of specific fears and objects are quite common. One in ten people may also have a specific phobia that interferes significantly with their lives. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with a specific phobia.

Do you have a Specific Phobia?

Do you...

1) Have an extreme or persistent fear that is triggered by a particular object or situation such as flying, heights, animals, having an injection or seeing blood, and is out of all proportion to any risk or threat posed?

2) Experience an immediate anxiety response which may take the form of an anxiety attack almost every time you meet this object or situation?

3) Recognise that your fear is excessive or unreasonable?

4) Avoid the feared situation or objection whenever possible, or endure it with intense anxiety or distress?

5) Experience significant difficulties or disruption in your day-to-day activities because of your anxiety, avoidance or distress related to the feared object or situation, or feel significantly upset about having the phobia?

If you answered yes to these questions, then it is likely that you have a specific phobia.

Treatment for specific phobias

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) works well for the treatment of specific phobias.

There are two main approaches within CBT:

1) Behavioural Exposure.
This is the most important aspect of treatment and involves gradual exposure, at your own pace, to the phobic object or situation to increase your tolerance of this and the physical sensations and anxiety it invokes, without engaging in activities to avoid or dampen down the effects of the phobic object or situation.

It also involves lots of practice to consolidate the new skills you have acquired. This may be accompanied by the second approach:
 
2) Cognitive. Here your therapist will provide you with information about phobias, and help you to correct misinformation and misinterpretations of phobic objects, situations and feared sensations. They will also help you to identify and change anxious, biased thinking patterns, particularly in how you perceive the risks or dangers in a particular situation or your reactions to this, or both.

Self-help and finding out more...

This short video from NHS Choices looks at the difference between 'Fear and Phobia' and also provides links to real stories and other information. You might also find this self-help guide to phobias useful in finding out more about your own situation.

Accessing Talking Therapies in Wirral

If you feel that talking therapies could help you, please talk to your GP about a referral to our service. We operate from GP Practices and other community locations across Wirral, so we're able to provide support near to where you live.

 

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