Many people think of a phobia as a simple fear that can easily be worked through with a deep breath and a bit of self-encouragement, but those who experience phobias themselves understand how powerful and debilitating they can truly be. The American Psychiatric Association defines a phobia as “an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation,” though we would argue that in most instances, while the fear is excessive, it isn’t truly irrational. Simply put, the world can be a scary place, and there are many dangers to overcome. However, when your innate self-preservation mode gets kicked into overdrive and you let some of those normal fears grow into something larger and more oppressive than they deserve to be, a comprehensive phobia treatment program can help you put things back into perspective.
What is a Phobia?
Medical News Today’s definition of phobia is “an irrational fear, a kind of anxiety disorder in which the individual has a relentless dread of a situation, living creature, place, or thing.” Different from a general dislike or a fear your mind assigns a reasonable amount of caution to, a phobia can greatly interfere in your day-to-day life, particularly if you suffer from agoraphobia, social phobia, or phobias of things and situations that are common and difficult to avoid, such as driving or heights.
Some phobias are little more than a nuisance, while others can have a significant, lasting impact on your life. A fear of public speaking can hold you back professionally even though you have the qualifications to excel, while a fear of heights can keep you from applying for that dream job on the 40th floor. Those suffering from a blood, injury and injection phobia (BII phobia) might avoid going to the doctor for routine tests, or even worse, for treatment they desperately need when they are sick or injured.
While there are innumerable phobias, each falls within three distinct categories, as identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). Let’s take a closer look at each.
Three Primary Categories of Phobias
Social Phobia: Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is characterized by an avoidance of social situations due to an overwhelming anxiety about the way those situations and interactions will make you feel. What would be normal, casual social interactions for most people instill a social phobe with elevated anxiety, self-consciousness, and fear of embarrassment. Many people with a social phobia believe those around them are discussing them in a negative way when they do force themselves into social situations. This paranoia can even include them thinking they hear others whispering their name or looking at them judgingly.
Agoraphobia: Agoraphobia is the overwhelming fear of crowded spaces and places. Thoughts of these places fill an agoraphobe with an elevated sense of panic and helplessness. Fear of embarrassment or entrapment can leave those who suffer from agoraphobia to avoid mass transit, sporting events, shopping malls, concert halls, elevators, and countless other locations and events.
Specific Phobia (aka. Simple Phobias): Specific phobias are perhaps the type of phobias that most people are aware of. These are often mentioned on television shows and in movies, addressed on daytime talk shows, highlighted in magazine articles and on blogs, and discussed among friends and family. Many people who don’t understand how intense these types of phobias can be, no matter how irrational they may find them, will laugh off specific phobias as though you could just “get over it.” It is for these types of phobias that others will often encourage you to “be reasonable” because “it’s all in your head.” And as you are all-too-aware, all of that is the exact opposite of helpful.
Specific phobias fall into one of five types, which include:
- Animal Phobias
- Situational Phobias
- Blood – Injury – Injection Phobias (BII Phobias)
- Natural Environment Phobias
- Other Phobias
Let’s explore some of the phobias found within each of these types…
List of Phobias by Type
Animal Phobias (Including Insect Phobias and Rodent Phobias)
Ailurophobia – The fear of cats
Alektorophobia – The fear of chickens
Anatidaephobia – The fear of ducks
Apiphobia – The fear of bees
Arachnophobia – The fear of spiders
Cynophobia – The fear of dogs
Entomophobia – The fear of bugs and insects (related to Acarophobia)
Equinophobia – The fear of horses
Galeophobia – The fear of sharks
Ichthyophobia – The fear of fish
Katsaridaphobia – The fear of cockroaches
Lepidopterophobia – The fear of butterflies
Mottephobia – The fear of moths
Musophobia – The fear of mice
Myrmecophobia – The fear of ants
Ophidiophobia – The fear of snakes
Ornithophobia – The fear of birds
Ranidaphobia – The fear of frogs
Scoleciphobia – The fear of worms
Spheksophobia – The fear of wasps
Zoophobia – The fear of animals in general
Aerophobia – The fear of flying
Agoraphobia – The fear of open or crowded spaces
Claustrophobia – The fear of small spaces
Gephyrophobia – The fear of bridges
Glossophobia – The fear of public speaking
Vehophobia – The fear of driving
Hemophobia – The fear of blood
Traumatophobia – The fear of injury
Trypanophobia – The fear of needles
Natural Environment Phobias
Acrophobia – The fear of heights
Aquaphobia – The fear of water
Astraphobia – The fear of storms
Nyctophobia – The fear of darkness
Ombrophobia – The fear of rain
Thalassophobia – The fear of the ocean
Trypophobia – The fear of holes
Achievemephobia – The fear of success
Androphobia – The fear of men
Coulrophobia – The fear of clowns
Globophobia – The fear of balloons
Gynophobia – The fear of women
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia – The fear of long words
Numerophobia – The fear of numbers
Philophobia – The fear of love
Pogonophobia – The fear of beards
Sidonglobophobia – The fear of cotton balls
Telephonophobia – The fear of talking on the phone
Xenophobia – The fear of the unknown
For more information about the above phobias and other phobias many people deal with every day, see this extensive phobia list.
What types of therapy can I expect as part of my phobia treatment plan?
At Bridges to Recovery we individually tailor the treatment plans for each of our clients to match their unique needs and what resonates best with them, with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) being the most commonly applied treatment modality for phobias. While we are open to complementary therapy methods as well, there are certain treatment modalities that we do not employ, notably exposure therapy.
Simply put, exposure therapy involves forcing a client to literally confront their fear in a non-dangerous setting or scenario. For the sake of example, let’s assume a client presented with arachnophobia – a fear of spiders. Exposure therapy might involve the client first being subjected to images of spiders, followed by the presentation of a spider in a contained terrarium, and finally to holding a spider. There would likely be several steps at each distinct phase, such as looking at images of increasingly larger spiders, getting closer and closer to the terrarium, eventually touching the terrarium, and so forth. Does this type of therapy work? Sometimes, there is evidence that it does work for some people. We fully understand that exposure therapy for phobia treatment is something that many rehabilitation centers do rely on, and that there have been cases where it appears to have proven an effective means of therapy. That said, it is a controversial therapy not without its detractors, and we believe the potentially negative consequences outweigh the risks, which can include further traumatization.
Additionally, as Alicia E. Meuret of the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University in Texas found in a recent exposure therapy study she conducted, “results contradict the theory that fear reactivity is an indicator of treatment outcome.” With that in mind, while some evidence suggests that exposure therapy may play a role in eventually overcoming a phobia, there is also evidence suggesting that it may not. And while there will always be moments of discomfort throughout any treatment program as you work through some tough issues, our doctors and therapists always aim to follow the Hippocratic Oath and “first, do no harm.” Until and unless there is stronger evidence to support the benefits of exposure therapy, we will rely on other respected modalities that we have seen great success with.
During your time in our phobia treatment program, there will be necessary periods of disease. Working through something that you have an intense fear of takes a lot of courage and willpower. But it is important to understand that we will never try to shock you into coming to terms with your phobia. We will take the necessary time to uncover what the underlying causes of your fears are so that we can help you heal more than the symptoms alone. It is because of the fantastic answers we’ve uncovered with so many people in this discovery period that we disagree with the classic definition of a phobia as an “irrational” fear. More often than not, something has happened in your past to bring about your phobia, and while we can help you better handle your future response to that same thing, place, stimulus or situation, we want to honor that it has an origin that is far from “all in your head.”
Phobia Statistics: How many Americans suffer from phobias?
It is estimated that 8.7% of Americans – 19.2 million people – suffer from a specific phobia, with many people suffering from more than one. While this is certainly no small number, it becomes less shocking when you consider that phobias in all their manifestations are an anxiety disorder. While the statistics vary quite a bit in regard to how many Americans suffer from at least one form of anxiety, some estimates put it as high as nearly 30%.
We outlined some of the most common phobias above, but have just scratched the surface. If your specific phobia wasn’t listed, you are not alone! In addition to the phobias above we’ve encountered people coping with dental phobia, foot phobia, germ phobia, button phobia, disease phobia, death phobia, and the list goes on and on. The important thing to remember is that the specific phobia does not dictate how seriously it needs to be treated, and we will be nothing but professional and compassionate in our treatment protocol. We understand that a fear of dying or losing loved ones can be just as debilitating as a fear of bridges or fear of eating in public. While the source of these phobias can vary greatly, their effect is the same – they leave you scared, sad, anxious, and in some cases, paralyzed into inactivity. You can get past these feelings; you can learn to handle your fear. And the life you’ll get to enjoy once you do is so very worth it.
Take the first important step today and contact Bridges to Recovery. Because, in the words of Mary Ferguson, “Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.”