Guide to Therapy for Phobias: Effective Treatments

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Introduction to Effective Types of Therapy for Phobias

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there are three classes of phobias - Agoraphobia, Social Phobia, and Specific Phobia. Agoraphobia is characterized by intense fear and anxiety of any place or situation where escape might be difficult, leading to avoidance of situations such as being alone outside of the home; traveling in a car, bus, or airplane; or being in a crowded area. Specific phobia involves marked and persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation. Social phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by overwhelming anxiety and fear of everyday social situations.

While those suffering from these ailments may think there is no help in sight, there are actually two types of therapy for phobias that are known to be effective. Exposure therapy is one of the best methods of gaining control over a phobia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also a well known methodology for helping people conquer their phobias.

Exposure Therapy

In exposure therapy, also known as systematic desensitization, the person stricken with the phobia is exposed to the object of their fear in a safe and controlled way. Most commonly, the patient will start by imagining the object of their fear, and then gradually move up to having a real encounter. For example, if you have a fear of doctors, you would start by sitting in the waiting room at the doctors office, Then you would proceed with talking to the doctor. The next step would be actually letting the doctor examine you.

After several experiences of facing your fear, you would soon begin to realize that while the situation may be unpleasant, it really will cause you no harm. After each exposure, you would begin to gain a certain sense of control over the phobia. With each session, the time spent with the doctor increases, until the fear of doctors is essentially gone.

There is another type of exposure therapy called participant modeling which is also helpful to those stricken with a phobia. In this case the therapist models the behavior that the stricken individual is afraid of while the patient watches in a relaxed state. For instance, if the patient is afraid of driving, the therapist would drive, while the patient rode in the car and watched in a relaxed state. Then, the person with the phobia is encouraged to mimic the same behavior.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In cognitive behavioral therapy, the focus is on teaching the patient how to change their thought patterns, so that that can then change their behavior. For a person with a phobia, the therapist might ask them to make a list of ten situations related to the phobia and rank them from 1 to 10 in order of what provokes the most fear and avoidance on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, someone who is scared of driving may place driving at night in a thunderstorm at the top of the list, while driving around their own neighborhood would rank relatively low. This would give the therapist a better idea of what exactly the phobia entails and help to establish a path for treatment.

Once the therapist understands the phobia, he/she will work with the patient to reestablish the patients thought processes regarding their fears. For example, people with a fear of spiders, fear being being bitten otouched by them even if they are safely behind glass. The therapists goal would then be to redirect the patients though patterns to make them realize that no harm can come to them from the spiders while they are behind the glass. This shows the stricken individual that their fears are really unfounded.

Through many sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, the patient eventually gains control over their thought processes, hence control over the phobia.

If you are suffering from a phobia, one of these types of therapy for phobias can help you to overcome your fears. Seek out the help of a trained therapist as soon as possible to begin your treatment process.


  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Phobias -
  2. National Institute of Mental Health -
  3. Exposure Therapy for Phobias -