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A specific phobia is an intense and unreasonable fear or anxiety about an object or situation. It is often treated using cognitive-behavioural therapy or exposure therapy.
Fears are common, especially in childhood. However, when these fears are intense and irrational, they may be diagnosed as specific phobias. Specific phobias are a type of anxiety disorder.
If a person has a phobia, their fear or anxiety is beyond the usual reaction to an object or situation. Phobias impact people's lives: people may adapt their lifestyles to avoid the phobia, or they may endure the phobia with intense feelings of anxiety.
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
Cognitive signs include thoughts such as:
“This plane will crash."
“The dog will bite me.”
Physical signs and symptoms include:
Behavioural signs and symptoms include:
avoiding the feared object or situation
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.
Diagnosis & Treatment
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.