Phobias 101


I have recently started seeing two patients that have phobias.  As odd as this sounds, it’s a different kind of fun challenge when I get a patient that has an issue that I haven’t dealt with.  I should clarify this by saying that I treat EACH patient individually- even if I see six Veterans with PTSD in one day, each one has a different treatment plan, a different approach to therapy, etc.  That being said, while I’m always on the search for new PTSD resources and info, a lot of my searches are repetitive.

So when I get a client with a phobia, especially an irrational phobia, it’s a fun challenge. A word of caution: be careful when googling about phobias.  Google is NOT nice, and will embed images in your search.  Googling “spider phobia” will get you some pretty scary images.

What is a phobia? An extreme or irrational fear of something.

Is this different than a fear?  Yes.  You can be afraid of something and still live your daily life.  Someone can be afraid of bugs, and they just try to avoid them.  If they are entomophobic (phobic of bugs) they will go out of there way to avoid them, and it might inhibit their ability to live their daily life.  If they see a bug outside their door, they might not be able to leave the house.  Someone merely afraid of bugs would probably just use another door or even use the door with the bug outside of it, just taking care not to touch it.

Are there different kinds of phobias?  Yes, if you search “phobias” you will get an extensive list.  The main way I like to break them down is into two categories- Rational and Irrational phobias.

Rational phobias are said to be “in our system” from caveman days.  They are phobias of things that potentially could hurt (or kill) you. These things obviously posed a much higher risk in prehistoric times, before modern medicine. These include:

Phobia of Heights (the fall could kill you)

Phobia of Bodies of Water (drown)

Phobia of Insects (their bite could kill you)

Phobia of Snakes (same as above)

Phobia of Spiders (same as above)

Phobia of Fire (die by fire, have materials/dwelling destroyed by fire)

Phobia of Dogs (their bite could kill you)

Now clinicians (myself included) are seeing more irrational phobias.  These include phobias like

Trypophobia – fear of circles or circular patterns

Cherophobia- fear of happiness

Leukophobia- fear of the color white

It is a little harder to find a cause or origin of these phobias.  Some might be steeped in prehistoric days.  For instance, Trypophobia could stem from mold spores, rashes that signified illness and there are some studies that suggest it might stem from certain patterns of snakes that were poisonous.

However, these more irrational phobias could also be personalized to the patient.  For example, if a person was very sick as a child and frequented the doctor regularly, he might associate bright white clothing with pain, therefore leading to Leukophobia.

The thing to remember with phobias is that they are treatable.  There are also many kinds of treatment types- you don’t have to do flooding (sometimes called exposure therapy).  You don’t HAVE to be confronted with the actual thing you’re phobic of but a good therapist will challenge you with talking about it and thinking about  it.  They will also understand that this can cause anxiety and will be able to address this.


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