Psychology

How are Phobias Treated



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Since a phobia is a very specific anxiety disorder, it requires very specific therapy. The two forms of therapy that are currently used to treat phobias are: systematic desensitization and flooding.

Systematic desensitization is a step by step process wherein a client is exposed to a feared stimulus little by little. For example, if a person has a dog phobia then the therapist will first get the client to talk about dogs, then perhaps show them pictures of dogs, and finally place the person in the presence of dogs. With each step the person is taught how to reduce their anxiety response through breathing exercises and rationalization. This process generally takes approximately three to six months. For those who cannot wait so long to get over their phobia, there's flooding.

Flooding is a process that generally takes between five to ten hours to complete the entire therapy. The idea is based off the concept that a person cannot sustain a heightened state of anxiety for a prolonged period of time. The client is taken into a situation where they will be put in direct contact with the feared stimulus for a prolonged period of time and is not permitted to leave. This form of therapy requires the informed consent of the client and the therapist explains the process so that the client understands what will happen during the therapy. If we use the dog phobia example, the client will be placed in a room with about five to six different breeds of dog, some big and some small. Obviously the client will then experience a panic episode due to their phobic response. They will then be coaxed by the therapist to move closer and closer to the feared stimulus (dogs in this case) until the client does not experience any more anxiety. This method works very quickly and is very effective, there is very little chance of relapse.

While systematic desensitization is more psychologically comfortable for clients, flooding offers faster results. Some clients are unable to wait months to get over their phobias. For example, a flight attendant who is afraid of heights would probably need to undergo flooding in order to perform in his/her job. When considering what type of therapy to undergo, the main questions are: how long will it take and how psychologically stressful do you want the therapy to be?

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