Specific phobias

Psychological disorders / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 9th 2014

What are specific phobias?

A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger.

Common specific phobias

Some of the more common specific phobias include the following kinds of stimuli:

  • closed-in places
  • heights
  • escalators
  • tunnels
  • highway driving
  • water
  • flying
  • dogs
  • needles
  • injuries involving blood

  • Specific phobias are irrational

    Such phobias aren’t just extreme fear; they are irrational fear of a particular thing.

    You may be able to ski the world’s tallest mountains with ease but be unable to go above the 5th floor of an office building. While adults with phobias realise that these fears are irrational, they often find that facing, or even thinking about facing, the feared object or situation brings on a panic attack or severe anxiety.

    What causes specific phobias?

    The causes of specific phobias are not well understood, but there is some evidence that the tendency to develop them may run in families. Specific phobias are twice as common in women as in men. They usually appear in childhood or adolescence and tend to persist into adulthood.

    Treatment for specific phobias

    If the feared situation or feared object is easy to avoid, people with specific phobias may not seek help; but if avoidance interferes with their careers or their personal lives, it can become disabling and treatment is usually pursued. Anxiolytic medication can be used chronically for situations that are infrequently encountered (e.g. someone who only gets on an airplane around three times a year, or just takes something for their annual Christmas office speech).

    Specific phobias respond very well to carefully targeted psychotherapy, and research has shown that CBT is an effective treatment.

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