Phobias are very common. One research survey showed that about 45% of people have phobias of one kind or another, but for most people they are not so distressing as to ruin their life. They can accommodate to them, or if you like, live life around them. But sometimes a phobia can be so severe that it stops people doing even everyday things. People may have agoraphobic type fears of crowds, supermarkets, travelling on buses, travelling from home, or medical fears of injections, blood, hospitals, fear of vomiting, or social fears such as speaking to groups of people, of blushing, of authority figures. There may be fears of animals or insects, of heights, of aeroplane flights; in fact there are thousands of specific types of phobias.
Sometimes phobias can live ‘under the surface’, not really disrupting our lives until one day, something changes, and it is then that the person discovers how much of a problem it is. For instance, they may never have needed to fly in a plane, but now they have to visit an ailing relative abroad and realise that they can’t … or you have to have a medical intervention, or injection, give a speech, work in a skyscraper, travel by bus – then it comes home to them.
A phobia is:
- A specific terror of a specific object or situation. Not all objects, just that one thing, e.g. a phobias of wasps but not bees
- Exposure to the object provokes extreme fear. At other times all is well.
- The person needs to avoid contact with the thing they fear.
- It interferes with their life or the life of their family
- The fear is excessive or unreasonable
- The person is mentally normal in all other respects
In the 1960s phobias were regarded as serious and almost untreatable. With the advent of Behaviour Therapy, and later Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) this has all changed. Phobias are treatable. It requires a lot of work on the sufferers part but nearly every phobia can be reversed with the right treatment in the hands of a competent therapist.
I have been treating phobic patients now for 40 years. I can’t say I have treated every phobia in the list of thousands, but I’ve treated a lot. Even for very unusual phobias, therapy can be successful.
A course of therapy may last from 6-15 sessions, depending on the type of phobia, over a 9 month period. Sessions are frequent at first (every 2 weeks) but less frequent in the latter part of therapy (about once a month) as the person enters the ‘follow-up’ stage.