The definition of a phobia is an intense however, unrealistic fear that can interfere with the sufferers lifestyle be it social, work, or everyday life. It can be brought on by an object, event or situation. What causes a phobia is a high anxiety state paired with an object. A fear of goldfish, balloons, people etc; may sound strange however the fear is intensely disabling for the sufferer.
Even though the causes of phobias are not well understood, treatments for these disorders are often effective. Therapists use a variety of techniques to treat the sufferers. One thing these treatments have in common is for the patient to confront the phobia. Doctors ask the patient to try to confront a real or imagined childhood fear. Some therapists define the source of the phobia as the external object or situation the patient identifies as fearful, while others find a deeper source within the patient whether it is unconscious, in thoughts, or in physical sensations. Therapists may set an explicit program for confronting feared objects and situations, while another might prescribe drugs or psychotherapy to prepare the patient to confront fearful situations in their everyday life.
In psychoanalysis unconscious conflict is seen as the source of anxiety. The goal of therapy is to bring that conflict to light, analyze what it is means to the patient, and substitute present day realistic appraisals for anxieties that are based on the limited understandings of childhood. Psychoanalytical techniques consist of free associations, and an analysis of dreams. Unfortunately, psychoanalysis and its related forms of psychotherapy have been proven disappointing in the treatment of phobias. Patients find the therapy helpful in resolving conflict, dissolving anxiety, and identifying with what gave them the fear in the beginning and modifying its hold on the victim. Therapists find that such improvements are more lasting when patients undergo psychotherapy individually or in groups. The therapist can help the patient to become more assertive when involved in conflict with other people and training them with the skills they will need for other social situations. This support may be crucial for a long-term success of any treatment technique.
EARLY BEHAVIOR TECHNIQUES
A landmark event in the development of treatment for phobias happened in the 1950’s with the publication of Joseph Wolpe’s book about treating the adult phobic patients with procedure called “Systematic desensitization.” Joseph Wolpe, a learning theorist, had adapted from a technique developed in the 20’s for helping children overcome animal phobias. Systematic desensitization requires the client to learn formal, deep-muscle relaxation. It is also up to the patient to rank situations related to the phobia that caused the anxiety. A patient is asked to make up a list of scenes of their greatest fears and anxieties. They are then to imagine in as much detail as possible, the least fear provoking scene from the list. At the same time the patient is asked to relax as previously taught. By remaining comfortable while imagining the feared situation, the patient will weaken the fears hold between the situation and the feelings of anxiety. Once the patient has been comfortable imagining the least threatening situation, he moves up the list and masters each in turn. However, most therapists have found that there is a gap between what is imagined and reality. In other words, patients who complete the desensitization treatment and exposes themselves to the real object or situation is likely to move part of the way back down the patients list. A good example of this is the patient while holding a snake may at first be able to touch, but not hold the object.
Behavior therapists observed that the exposure to the fear was the common ingredient in desensitization and flooding, they began to develop other techniques they hoped would be even more effective. While earlier methods were set to reduce anxiety so that patients could change their behavior. The new techniques focused instead on altering behavior. Once the patients behavior changed, the reasoning went, anxiety would diminish. The assumption is that phobic anxiety is maintained. It continues and may become intense when the patient begins to repeatedly avoid the object or situation of their fear. In treatment, the therapists explains this rationale to the patient, outlines the procedure that the patient will follow and helps him anticipate what his or her reaction will be when confronted with the fear. The therapist assures the patient that he or she will always be available to help the patient cope with his or her sense of danger, and will be there ready to stop the treatment at anytime. The patient is then exposed to the object of their fears. In general, the patients are asked to stay in the situation until their anxiety begins to diminish. The patients tolerate closer and longer confrontations with the threatening object. Some therapists use exposure to patient’s imaginations as a means of helping their patients confront feared situations. The programs that use life exposure therapy technique have become the mainstay in the treatment of simple phobias and agoraphobia.
One form of cognitive-behavioral treatment is self- statement training. This teaches the patients to become aware of negative thought statements such as, “I’ll faint if I touch that, or “I can’t do that,” and to replace them with positive statements such as “Of course I can do it.” Once the patient is familiar with this treatment, the patient can use it to help himself progress through a behavioral treatment program.
Is a totally different approach to therapy where the patient is asked to feel and express their anxieties. Patients are urged to exaggerate their fears and symptoms often with humor. A woman, as an example would announce she is going to faint and to tell the other patients she is probably the best fainter in the world. In turn, taking charge of the symptoms in this way diminishes their force. In fact, a patient who “Tries” to faint, sweat, or tremble may find to be unable to do so.
Beginning in the early 1960’s, it was discovered that certain antidepressants could prevent the unpredictable panic attacks characterization of agoraphobia. The assumption is once the panic attacks, no longer threatens the patient; the anxiety that accompanies the anticipation of future panic attacks is less.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a phobia, don’t dismiss the person or the phobia. It is a good idea to consult a physician to make certain that symptoms don’t mask a serious physical illness. Find someone who is skilled in treating phobias and helping the patient go on in life without any fears.