Living with a phobia is challenging. It makes you live in fear and panic even when the source of the phobia isn't near you. In other words, it's mentally exhausting, especially because fear and panic come with constant worry about how to avoid the source of the phobia.
We know how hard life with a phobia is. We also know that you are not alone: in the United States, it is estimated that 12.5% of adults have experienced a specific phobia at some point in their life. About 9.1% of U.S. adults had specific phobias in the past year, the National Institute of Mental Health reports.
This fear and constant worrying don’t need to stay in your life forever. Therapy is key. Regular counseling can help you feel better, overcome this disorder, and improve your quality of life. Keep reading to learn more about phobia therapy and whether online therapy is right for you.
Are Phobias a Mental Illness?
The short answer is yes – phobias are a mental illness. Specifically, a type of anxiety disorder. What's more, phobias are among the most common mental illnesses. A phobia is defined as a type of anxiety disorder indicated by an excessive or irrational fear reaction. You see, fear is a normal reaction to danger, but phobias occur when those reactions are so excessive that they disrupt a person's daily life and functioning.
There are many types of phobia, such as agoraphobia (fear of inescapable places or situations), social phobia, acrophobia (fear of heights), claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), entomophobia (fear of insects), ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), cynophobia (fear of dogs), trypanophobia (fear of needles), and many others.
Can phobias be treated? Once again, the answer is yes. Phobias are among the most successfully treated mental illnesses. Find out more about phobia treatment options below.
What Causes Phobias?
Phobia causes can vary from one person to another. Factors that contribute to the development of phobia can be genetic or environmental. Stressful events or traumas such as nearly drowning or going through an accident can also cause a phobia. Childhood trauma is one of the most common causes of phobia.
People with certain medical conditions may develop phobias as well. Good examples are traumatic brain injury and substance abuse.
Can Phobias Be Treated?
Phobias are no easy thing to deal with. Overcoming them is equally challenging. It's easy to find self-help tips and tricks to manage this disorder. Some of the most common tips include visualizing a happy place, imagining the worst, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and talking it out with someone.
Plus, taking prescribed medications doesn't help as much as you’d like. While they can tackle the symptoms, medications don't engage with the root cause of the problem – why the phobia is there in the first place. For that reason, it's necessary to seek professional help. The recommended phobia treatment option is always phobia therapy.
Phobia treatment can involve a combination of both therapy and medications. But therapy alone is a far better option.
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Phobia Therapy Types and Treatment Options
As mentioned above, the most beneficial approach to treat phobias is therapy. The therapist chooses the most suitable form of therapy based on your phobia, the severity of your symptoms, and other factors. Below, you can find out about some of the different phobia therapy types.
Exposure therapy is a type of behavior therapy developed to help clients confront their fears. When people are scared of something, they tend to avoid it. Although avoidance can be useful in some cases, it can worsen your phobia in the long run. The main objective of exposure therapy is to break that pattern of fear and avoidance and help you improve your quality of life as a result.
Evidence confirms that exposure therapy is an effective approach for overcoming phobias, especially with multiple sessions.
At the very beginning of exposure therapy, the therapist teaches you relaxation techniques that can help you calm down in stressful times.
Once you learn to calm yourself down when you are in a stressful situation, the therapist creates a hierarchy of experiences associated with the phobia you have. The hierarchy includes everything from the least scary situation or specific thing to the scariest. Gradual exposure to those things, known as systematic desensitization, then takes place.
This phobia therapy is a safe and effective approach to gradually bring you closer to the object or situation that scares you.
While you slowly approach the source of your fear, the therapist is there to guide and help you learn and stay calm. As you overcome one step on the hierarchy list, the therapist helps you overcome another level, and so on. The main objective here is to systematically desensitize you to the phobia so that you don't have symptoms and triggers anymore.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapy where the main objective is to help you identify negative thoughts and behaviors so that you can make positive changes to them. Studies show that CBT can be as equally effective as exposure therapy for some types of phobia. It's also an effective supplemental therapy for persons with this disorder.
Systematic desensitization employed in exposure therapy is often used in this phobia therapy too. You see, CBT focuses on your specific thoughts and beliefs linked to phobia. This is important because people with phobias tend to develop patterns of thought that aren't connected to reality.
For instance, a person with a phobia may imagine the worst thing that can happen, which only worsens the fear and stress they experience. That's what CBT helps you with. During the therapy sessions, the therapist helps you identify thought patterns that are maladaptive and inaccurate and helps you replace them with adaptive and accurate ones instead.
This phobia treatment helps you remind yourself that you’re experiencing a phobia so that you realize that this episode of fear will end soon. You also realize your thoughts are encouraging your fear, and so they must be dealt with.
Mindfulness techniques can help manage stress. While mindfulness techniques don't really prevent the initial rush your phobia triggers, they can help reduce the severity of symptoms you experience.
Some of these techniques include meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation. You need to bear in mind that mindfulness techniques are not a replacement for phobia therapy. Instead, these techniques are adjuncts to regular counseling sessions with your therapist.
What About Online Therapy?
Phobia therapy is a safe and effective strategy to overcome your fears or decrease the level of anxiety they cause. Therapy sessions don't have to take place in the therapist's office anymore. Online therapy is a viable option as well.
In fact, online counseling could be even more convenient. Reasons for that are numerous. The first and most significant advantage of online therapy is its easy accessibility. You don't have to travel, as the therapy sessions take place online via video calls. Plus, you can also contact the therapist via chat between sessions if you feel like you need more support and guidance.
You can attend your therapy sessions from the comfort of your home, at work, or from anywhere else. All you need is an internet connection. This isn't just a matter of practicality and time – being in a place you find comfortable helps you open up during therapy sessions.
The important thing to know is that online therapy works the same way as a face-to-face approach. You have a therapist who employs adequate phobia therapy techniques, guides you through the process, and gives you the freedom to talk about your phobia and traumas in a safe space without judgment. The therapeutic relationship with your therapist gives you the strength to move forward and work on your phobia.
The only difference is that you don't have to spend so much time looking for the best therapist. As you sign up to the platform, you are matched with the most suitable therapist for you, and your journey towards better mental health can start.
Phobias are a common mental health disorder. While the impact of a phobia on a person's quality of life is severe, therapy helps overcome the fears. Therapy sessions are an effective phobia treatment. You are not limited to face-to-face counseling. Online therapy can be equally beneficial.