Therapy for Phobias
How CBT Can Help You Overcome Phobias
Anxiety therapists at GroundWork Counseling in Orlando are often asked how we help people to overcome phobias. While most of us might have some anxiety when we are faced with things such as vomit, spiders, closed spaces, driving, flying or blood, our levels of anxiety tend to be fairly mild and don’t affect our daily level of functioning. Individuals with a specific phobia feel intense anxiety that is out of proportion the actual level of threat and is severe enough so that the individual consistently tries to avoid potential contact with the phobia trigger. Specific phobias are quite common and affect 1 in 8 people over the course of a lifetime.
Phobias are categorized into the following:
- Animal phobias. Animal phobias are the most common specific phobias and include phobias of spiders, snakes, dogs, insects, etc.
- Situational phobias. Situational phobias are also quite common and include fear or taking elevators, fear of flying, fear of driving, fear of going through a tunnel, fear of going over a bridge.
- Environmental phobias. These include fear of water, fear of storms, fear of the dark, fear of heights.
- Blood-injury phobias. These types of phobias are defined by fear of seeing blood, fear of needles, fear or being injured, fear of medical procedures.
- Other phobias. Some phobias don’t fit easily into categories and include fear of vomit, fear of clowns, fear of loud sounds, fear of falling down.
Helping individuals to overcome specific phobias requires an experienced Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT) that understands the thoughts, experiences, sensations and emotions the person with a phobia is facing. A person’s phobic responses consist of 3 parts:
- A physiological fear response (fight or flight response)
- Cognitive appraisals (“this situation/thing is dangerous”)
- Behavioral response of escaping or avoiding the phobic trigger
For example, a person with a fear of flying may begin to notice muscle tension and rapid breathing on the way to the airport (the physiological response). The person might think, “that plane is a deathtrap, it can’t be safe” (cognitive appraisal) and then the person decides that the best thing to do is cancel the trip (behavioral avoidance).
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for specific phobias addresses all three aspects of the phobic response and focuses on exposure therapy. Exposure therapy for specific phobias is guided by the theory that anxiety is maintained by avoidance.
It’s important to understand that exposure therapy is much more than “just do it”. CBT therapists at GroundWork Counseling in Orlando understand that in order for exposure therapy to work, it has to be done correctly. When done incorrectly by well-meaning but inexperienced therapists, it is just a repetition of the discouraging and distressing experience that brought the individual with a phobia into treatment in the first place. “Just do it” is not exposure therapy. Under the careful guidance of GroundWork Counseling’s CBT therapists, people with phobias learn to slowly and methodically confront thoughts, things and situations that trigger anxiety. In time, individuals with specific phobias learn to respond more rationally to their anxiety producing triggers. CBT treatment allows individuals with phobias to practice confronting their fears in a structured environment so they can become confident enough to handle anxiety-provoking situations on their own.
Speak With An Orlando Phobia Therapist