Psychological Services Center

Specific Phobias

Specific Phobias are excessive and unreasonable fears of specific situations or objects, such as spiders, or flying in an airplane. Facing these situations or objects, or even thoughts about facing them, brings on severe anxiety or panic attacks. Phobias are more than just extreme fear; they are irrational fear. Adults who have these fears realize that they are irrational, but are still anxiety stricken by the feared object or situation. Thus, the phobic situation or object is either avoided or else endured with intense anxiety. The anxious anticipation, distress in the feared situation, and/or the avoidance are severe enough to significantly interfere with a person's normal daily routine, functioning at work or school, and/or social activities and relationships.

Subtypes of Specific Phobias and Commonly Feared Situations

  • Animal Subtype: Snakes, spiders, dogs, etc.
  • Natural Environment Subtype: Water, storms, heights, etc.
  • Situational Subtype: Being in closed places, elevators, flying, etc.
  • Blood-Injection-Injury Subtype: Receiving an injection, injuries involving blood, etc.

What types of treatment are available?

Here are the main treatment options usually considered for PTSD:

  • Medication. Some people who have Specific Phobias can benefit from medications, but medications have not produced increased gains over psychotherapy with behavioral treatment. In addition, some medica­tions can have side effects and cannot be used by certain people, different people respond differently to different medications, and not all people who can take medications benefit from them. Therefore, making the decision to try medications and deciding which one to try should be done under the care of a physician or psychiatrist.
  • Behavior Therapy. The main goal of behavior therapy for Specific Phobia is to help individuals modify the maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors surrounding exposure to the phobic stimulus. An empirically validated treatment, called in vivo exposure, is the treatment of choice for specific phobia. In vivo experiments involve gradual exposure to the feared stimulus, and help individuals gradually to confront feared situations and unlearn the anxious responses associated with the phobic stimulus.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Other common components of cognitive-behavioral treatment for Specific Phobia is cognitive restructuring, or changing thoughts and beliefs related to the feared stimulus, and relaxation training. Both are important skills to develop, and can feel helpful in combination with in vivo exposure treatments, but neither have been shown to produce increased gains in treatment over exposure treatment alone.
  • Other Psychological Therapies. There are many different types of psychological therapies, such as Interpersonal, Family, and Supportive. Many of these therapies were not developed specifically for anxiety disorders, but for other reasons (such as reducing depression, improving relationships or for personal growth). Although these other therapies are generally not helpful for the base anxiety, they may be useful for reaching other goals (such as reducing depression or improving relationships), which may ultimately help maintain gains in anxiety treatment. These services are not usually provided in the ADS. In the event that you may wish to obtain such therapies, the ADS can provide referrals for you. Additionally, these services may be obtained from the Psychological Services Center (which houses the ADS).