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Specific Phobia Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

 Health Info A-Z


Specific Phobia

What is specific phobia? 

Specific phobias involve a “marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 197). (See also "Social Anxiety Disorder," also known as social phobia)

There are five subtypes of specific phobia:

  • animal type, e.g., fear of mice or spiders
  • natural environment type, e.g., fear of storms or heights
  • blood/injection/injury type, e.g., fear of seeing blood or receiving an injection
  • situational type, e.g., fear of public transportation, elevators or enclosed spaces
  • other type, e.g., fear of choking or vomiting.

Signs & symptoms of specific phobia

Cognitive signs include thoughts such as:

  • “This plane will crash.”
  • “The dog will bite me.”

Physical signs and symptoms include:


  • sweating
  • muscle tension
  • dizziness.

Behavioural signs and symptoms include:

  • avoiding the feared object or situation, such as air travel
  • feeling a need to escape the feared object or situation.


Causes & risk factors

Anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of biological, genetic and psychological factors and challenging life experiences.

Although there is no one particular cause of specific phobias, the following factors appear to contribute to the development of phobias:

  • experiencing a frightening incident (e.g., being bitten by a dog)
  • seeing the reactions of a parent or other family member who has a phobia.

Treatment for specific phobia

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, including specific phobias. Exposure therapy, a form of behavioural therapy, is often used to treat specific phobias. Other psychological treatments, such as relaxation training, meditation, biofeedback and stress management, can also help. Many people with phobias benefit from supportive counselling or family therapy. Medication is another option and is sometimes combined with CBT.

Reference: American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.), Washington, DC: Author.

Adapted from Anxiety Disorders: An Information Guide © 2016 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Where can I find help, treatment and support for specific phobia?

Treatment from CAMH 

Help for Families from CAMH

Ontario Mental Health Helpline (open 24/7 for treatment anywhere in Ontario)​​


Where can I find more information related to specific phobia?

Anxiety: An Information Guide (CAMH online store)

Anxiety Disorder 101 (online tutorial) Please Note: Your pop-up blocker must be turned off to view this tutorial

What Older Adults, Their Families and Friends Need to Know about… Anxiety (PDF)

Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: An Information Guide (CAMH online store)

Understanding Psychiatric Medications: Antidepressants

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