Specific Phobias

Specific phobias are a persistent and irrational dread triggered by the presence or thoughts of a particular object or situation, that bears little or almost no actual risk.

Encountering the object or situation triggers an automatic response which may result in extreme anxiety or complete avoidance of the object or situation. The distress caused might render it difficult for a person to function.

Additionally, though individuals who suffer from a specific phobia might recognise that their dread is usually excessive or illogical, they may still feel powerless to overcome it.


Common Phobias

Some common phobias include:

  • Blood
  • Animals 
  • Heights
  • Natural Phenomena (e.g. Storms, Lightning)
  • Loud Sounds
  • Enclosed Spaces
  • Water


What Causes Specific Phobias?

The exact cause of specific phobias is unknown, but it is usually due to a learnt response or traumatic experience. Other than first hand experiences of traumatic events, witnessing other individual experience harm or extreme fear responses can also result in phobias.


Diagnostic Criteria in the DSM-5

A formal diagnosis has several requirements:

✽   Specific Objects or Situations

Specific objects or situations that provoke a marked sense of fear or anxiety in the individual. These objects or situations are also actively avoided whenever possible, or endured with intense fear.

✽   Disproportionate and Consistent Fear

The fear that the individual experiences is disproportionate to the actual dangers involved, and consistently occurs in the presence of the phobic object/situation.

✽   Duration

The above symptoms are persistent for at least 6 months.



✽   Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help individuals with phobias by intervening in the specific beliefs and thoughts associate with the phobias. This allows  individuals to identify cognitive distortions and unhelpful beliefs and to replace them with beliefs and skills that help them cope with the situation at hand.

✽   Exposure Therapy

Exposure Therapy aims to help alleviate automatic responses to specific phobias. This occurs through desensitisation, where individuals are gradually exposed to small doses of their phobia until their fear starts to fade. These exposure methods may include activities such as directly facing the phobia, imaginary exposure, or even exposure through virtual reality.

✽   Medication

Xanax and Ativan are usually prescribed occasionally for situational phobias that produce intense anxiety. Occasionally, Prozac, Paxil and Lexapro may also be used to treat specific phobias.

✽   Relaxation Techniques

Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, and muscle relaxation techniques can be taught to help individuals cope with the physiological symptoms of phobias.

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