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 adults who suffer from a specific phobia understand that their dread is usually excessive or illogical, they may still feel powerless to overcome it.


Some common phobias include:

  1. Blood
  2. Animals 
  3. Height
  4. Nature (e.g. storm)
  5. Loud sounds
  6. Enclosed spaces
  7. 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 experiences to harm or extreme fear responses can also cause specific phobia.


Diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5

   Specific objects or situation; 

  • Provokes a marked fear /anxiety
  • Is actively avoided whenever possible or endured with intense fear


   The fear, anxiety or avoidance

  • Is disproportionate to the actual dangers involved
  • Consistently occurs in the presence of the phobic object/situation



  • Symptoms are persistent (for at least 6 months)



   Cognitive behavioural therapy

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 something more accurate.


   Exposure therapy

Help with automatic responses to specific phobias through desensitization, where individuals are gradually exposed to small doses of their phobia until their fear starts to fade. These exposure methods may include; a direct facing of the phobia, imaginary exposure, or even virtual reality exposure.



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


   Relaxation techniques

Such as deep breathing, yoga, muscle relaxation techniques.

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