Phobias

by | Nov 12, 2012 | Therapy

Article on phobias , published in The Weekly News 10th November, 2012 ….

Too scared of water to go for a shower! From mice to spiders, we’re living in a state of anxiety. While a fear of heights may be understandable, how about a fear of mice, seaweed or even Christmas? Welcome to the strange world of phobias,where what might seem harmless to one person can be petrifying to another. Although it’s a mental condition rather than an illness, and sufferers carry no visible sign of their affliction, that doesn’t make it any less of a problem.

Chartered Psychologist Graham W Price says the majority of the population suffer from one sort of phobia or another. “I’d have thought 40 to 50% of the population are arachnaphobic,” he said. “We can learn phobias off people, so if parents are afraid of spiders, you’ll pick that up very quickly. Otherwise, specific phobias are acquired as a result of a bad experience. “Say someone had a mouse run over them as a child. Then they’ll be worried about mice and spend their remaining childhood years trying to avoid mice.”

Some of the phobias Graham has had to treat have been more unusual. “I had a client whose mother died on Christmas day” he said, “and they developed an anxiety about Christmas Day. She started to avoid Christmas. She became so phobic, she’d go away from her family every year. She’d avoid buying Christmas cards or presents. Someone else had a phobia about seaweed. If she went into the sea, she’d have to make sure it was somewhere there would be no chance of her coming into contact with seaweed. It was linked to a childhood experience, catching some seaweed and thinking it was something else. Someone else had a water phobia. It even included not being able to have a shower, which was debilitating, so the only way they could keep themselves clean was with a wet flannel.”

Traditionally, phobias have been treated by something called exposure therapy. They might be shown a drawing and then a photograph of the thing that makes them anxious, before gradually getting closer to a real example. Now, as well as training someone to expose themselves to the trigger, we also train them to accept the reaction rather than fight it. Phobia is an anxiety and we tend to resist anxiety — it worries them so they will avoid the trigger.”

“Other more modern treatments such as dissociative techniques, may involve imagining watching someone watching a video involving the feared object or situation, then reducing the dissociation by becoming the person watching the video and finally imagining being part of the video. Successful treatment can work quickly, yet still many people struggle on without asking for help”, admits Graham.“They don’t know there are other treatments, and think the only option available is exposure,which frightens them.”

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