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What is a Phobia?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a phobia is an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation. In most cases, the phobia involves a sense of endangerment or a fear of harm.

  • Do you turn into a raving lunatic when you see a spider?
  • Are you missing business opportunities because you would rather die than speak in front of people?
  • Has it been 15 years since you have been to the dentist?
  • Would you rather drive 23 hours to visit your parents than take a 2 hour air plane ride?
  • How long has it been since you went to a social function?

How many people suffer from Phobias?
Experts Estimate:
• 3 out of 4 people suffer from a fear of public speaking
• 1 in 10 adults experience some type of Specific Phobia
• 5-13% of the U.S. population suffer from Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

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  • Glossophobia (fear of speaking in public)
  • Enochlophobia (fear of crowds)
  • Agoraphobia (fear of going out to public places)
  • Social Phobia (fear of public events – fear of how others will judge them)
  • Dentophobia or Odontophobia (fear of dentists or dental procedures)
  • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
  • Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
  • Acrophobia (fear of heights)
  • Coulrophobia (fear of clowns)
  • Carlanaphobia (fear of driving)
  • Aerophobia (fear of flying)
  • Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)
  • Brontophobia (fear of thunderstorms)
  • Mysophobia (fear of germs – also called “germophobia”)
  • Carcinophobia (fear of acquiring cancer)
  • Necrophobia (fear of death)
  • Animal phobias: Examples include the fear of dogs, snakes, insects, or mice. Animal phobias are the most common specific phobias.
  • Situational phobias: These involve a fear of specific situations, such as flying, riding in a car or on public transportation, driving, going over bridges or in tunnels, or of being in a closed-in place, like an elevator.
  • Natural environment phobias: Examples include the fear of storms, heights, or water.
  • Blood-injection-injury phobias: These involve a fear of being injured, of seeing blood or of invasive medical procedures, such as blood tests or injections
  • Other phobias: These include a fear of falling down, a fear of loud sounds, and a fear of costumed characters, such as clowns

The DSM-IV-TR lists the following diagnostic criteria:

A. Marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation (e.g., flying, heights, animals, receiving an injection, seeing blood).
B. Exposure to the phobic stimulus almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed Panic Attack. Note: In children, the anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging.
C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable. Note: In children, this feature may be absent.
D. The phobic situation(s) is avoided or else is endured with intense anxiety or distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
F. In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.
G. The anxiety, Panic Attacks, or phobic avoidance associated with the specific object or situation are not better accounted for by another mental disorder, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia, or Agoraphobia Without History of Panic Disorder.

The DSM-IV-TR lists the following diagnostic criteria:
“The essential feature of Social Phobia is a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur”.
A. A marked or persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be humiliating or embarrassing. Note: In children, there must be evidence of the capacity for age-appropriate social relationships with familiar people and the anxiety must occur in peer settings, not just in interactions with adults.
B. Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally predisposed Panic Attack. Note: In children, the anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or shrinking from social situations with unfamiliar people.
C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable. Note: In children, this feature may be absent.
D. The feared social or performance situations are avoided or else are endured with intense
anxiety or distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance
situation(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.
F. In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.
G. The fear or avoidance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a
a medication) or a general medical condition and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (e.g., Panic Disorder With or Without Agoraphobia, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, or Schizoid Personality Disorder).
H. If a general medical condition or another mental disorder is present, the fear in Criterion
A is unrelated to it, e.g., the fear is not of Stuttering, trembling in Parkinson’s disease, or exhibiting abnormal eating behavior in Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.

Author: Crystal Hollenbeck

Experts believe there are several causes that contribute to Social and Specific Phobias such as genetic predisposition, age, and gender as well as societal, cultural, psychological, and physiological factors. Trauma is also believed to be a common cause.

YES! CBT, EMDR and Group Therapy can be very effective!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most common therapy used when treating Specific and Social Phobia Disorders. CBT uses techniques that reduce anxiety, change thought patterns, and assist a person in overcoming fears by building confidence with exposure activity.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a bi-lateral stimulation therapeutic technique that also assists a person in processing phobias and fears related to traumatic experiences.

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