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The Psychology of Phobias

Phobias are also called Specific Phobias. These disorders are the phobias with which we are all familiar. A person has an anxiety response when exposed to a specific event or object, such as fear of snakes, or fear of flying. Phobias are divided into types, including animal type (fear of animals or insects), natural environment type (storms, heights, etc), blood-injection-injury type (seeing blood, getting a shot, etc.), and situational type (flying, tunnels, bridges, etc.).

The development of a specific phobia usually occurs either during childhood or in the mid-20s. Phobias are relatively common in the general population, but rarely diagnosed because people tend to manage their lives around the phobia, rather than seeking treatment. Sometimes a specific phobia will develop as a secondary problem following a trauma. For example, a person has a severe car accident, and becomes fearful of driving, or a person is attacked by a dog, and becomes fearful of animals. It is important to differentiate between reactions such as these, which may be part of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, versus a specific phobia, without a history of trauma.

Psychologists provide treatment for specific phobias using behavioral and cognitive therapy procedures. Desensitization is very effective, as well as the development of cognitive coping strategies. However, many people never seek treatment, unless the specific phobia interferes with life functioning in a significant way. For example, if a person has a fear of flying, they cannot accept a promotion that requires frequent travel without learning how to cope with their fear, or overcome it.

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