Guest Author - Karen Huber
Phobias are classified in three groups under anxiety disorders: social phobias such as performance anxiety or fears of embarrassment; specific phobias such as fear of spiders or fear of heights; and agoraphobia, fear of leaving home. Phobias are extreme fears that interfere with daily life, are persistent and intense, and last over six months. There are over a hundred different phobias from fear of flying to nosocomephobia, fear of hospitals. The actual cause of phobias is unknown; however, children may learn phobias by observation, especially a family member's extreme reaction to an object or situation. Heredity and traumatic experiences can also influence the development of phobias. Phobias usually develop at a young age and are found more in females. An extreme fear, or phobia, usually provokes a panic attack and elevated heart rate. Phobias can lead people to seek social isolation, experience depression, and sometimes, substance abuse. They usually do not go away unless the person receives treatment.
Common treatments for phobias include, otherwise know as antidepressants and beta-blockers, which decrease physical symptoms by blocking adrenaline effects (rapid heart beat.) Phobias are sometimes treated with benzodiazepines, which help with relaxation. Other therapists use virtual reality or imagery exercise to desensitize patients. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a patient understand the cycle of fear, its triggers, and reactions. Patients can help the therapist, and each other in group settings, to make a plan to change extreme thought patterns and behaviors.
A treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is sometimes used, an eight-phase approach which processes stored memory. The client recalls the disturbing memory while focusing therapist-directed bilateral stimulation such as lateral eye movement, hand-tapping, or bilateral auditory tones. EMDR uses elements of psychodynamic, cognitive, interpersonal, experiential, physiological, and somatic therapies. Hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming are also sometimes used. Neurolinguistic programming is a psychotherapy that encourages successful patterns of behavior and thought patterns. It encourages self-awareness, effective communication, and change in mental and emotional behavior. Emotional Freedom Technique, an alternative psychotherapy, uses tapping on acupuncture points while the patient focuses on traumatic memories. Sometimes therapists suggest multiple treatments.
Prevention of phobias takes a few simple steps with children such as being honest about and not trivializing a child's fears. Let the child know that you are there to help overcome their fears by offering support. If therapy is needed, be sure to research reputable counselors. Encourage children to breathe deeply and repeat positive statements when frightened. Have them rate fears on a scale of 1 to 10 so fears appear less overwhelming. Examine your own fears if you feel that you are projecting them onto your child. You both can benefit from combined or family therapy with a specialized, understanding therapist who can develop a plan for dealing with or extinction of fears. Do not feel ashamed of your fears; sometimes, intuition is a powerful warning signal of issues that need work. We all have fears and have had fearful experiences. If yours are taking over your life, do not be afraid to ask for help.