About Phobia Therapy

Phobias are a common form of psychological disorder and distress. Generally defined as irrational fears about objects or situations, people tend to see their phobias as unreasonable, but feel incapable of giving up the fear or confronting the situation head on. Not all phobias are severe enough to impact the quality of one's life, but some are. There are many ways to treat a phobia, and some treatment methods are much more effective than others. Most people have certain things or situations that create discomfort, but are still able to carry on with the daily activities of life. Individuals with phobias or a specific phobia have intense, irrational fears, and will experience great distress that disrupts their life, avoiding the object or situation altogether. Phobias can be categorized into three types: Simple, or situational, social phobias and agoraphobia.

Some common phobias include:

  • Heights
  • Elevators
  • Small or enclosed spaces
  • Animals
  • Blood & needles
  • Storms
  • Visiting the dentist or doctor
  • Flying, driving, cars, trains or other modes of transportation
  • Social situations
  • Open spaces (agoraphobia)

Common symptoms associated with phobias include:

  • Avoidance
  • Intense dread
  • Dizziness
  • Breathlessness
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • A fear of dying
  • A sense of unreality
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Suicide

Many people who suffer severe symptoms from a phobia do not talk about it. They feel shame and embarrassment, and it is not uncommon for someone with a phobia to feel very lonely and isolated. The avoidance alone creates an uncomfortable life of restrictions and challenges for the sufferer. Support groups can be helpful in addition to finding a good therapist who practices evidence-based therapies or even alternative and cutting-edge treatments. Which treatment option will work best for you? Every individual is different. It depends on your personality, motivation, severity of your symptoms and the degree to which your life is impacted by the phobia.

There are many very effective treatments available including:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or CBT - Cognitive therapy helps modify and change thinking patterns and the behavioral aspect is used to change people's reactions to anxiety-provoking situations. This is done through exposure to the object or situation in vivo, but only when the individual feels ready. Research has proven that CBT is effective for many of the anxiety disorders including social phobia and panic disorder.
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques - Specific breathing techniques are taught to help bring down the level of arousal.
  • Medication combined with CBT therapy - Studies indicate that antidepressant medication along with cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely effective for phobia treatment and other anxiety disorders. Medication reduces intense symptoms enough for someone to function on a daily basis while beginning other forms of treatment.
  • EMDR therapy -  EMDR is thought to be easier for clinicians than in vivo treatment where one might not have access to the object or situation that causes fear. EMDR uses bi-lateral stimulation and the image of the specific target or phobia to process the experience and lessen the impact on the nervous system, thus reducing symptoms.

I use a combination of CBT, relaxation techniques and EMDR therapy when working with individuals who have specific phobias, agoraphobia and social phobia as well as any trauma, fear, or terror that seriously limits the quality of one's life.

NYC Therapist Kimberly Seelbrede, LCSW is a skilled Psychotherapist, Relationship and Stress Reduction Expert in New York City. She provides therapy, EMDR & Coaching to individuals and couples.