Psychology

How are Phobias Treated



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A phobia is a fear of a certain stimulus or situation. This fear is an unwarranted overreaction to something which is generally seen as harmless to most people. Phobia is usually so intense that it hampers daily living and poses problems in everyday situations. For example, a person may be so afraid of heights (acrophobia) that he/she does not dare to even look out of the second floor window. Another person may be so afraid of confined spaces (claustrophobia) that he/she does not dare to enter a lift. The above mentioned are common everyday situations which most people will not even blink an eye at. However, these situations may be too overwhelming to a person who has that phobia.

It is a natural reaction to run away' or to flee when one sense danger. This is an evolutionary survival instinct. By running away in fear, one is protected from a dangerous object, animal or situation. However, for people with phobias, running away from their fears is the worst thing to do. IN fact, the best way to treat or deal with an unwarranted fear (i.e. the fear of something harmless) is to face the fear.

How can we get people to face their fear, when it is instinctive for anyone to avoid what they fear? The answer lies in how the feared object or situation is introduced. In cognitive psychology, the method of systematic desensitization is used. Under the guidance of the therapist, the person with the phobia is slowly exposed to the feared object (either by imagining or real life). Typically, the person may be taught some self-relaxation techniques, before beginning the exposure. The exposure is done step by step, each in added intensity to the final step. For example, a person who is afraid of dogs may be guided to first imagine a dog in the room, followed by getting closer to the dog, looking at the dog, finally to touching the dog or carrying it. Under such controlled conditions, the person slowly learns that dogs are not so frightening. Once the person is able to stop avoiding the source of his /her fear and start facing it with, the person will be able to overcome his/ her fear.

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