What is a phobia?
Phobia is a word which derives from the ancient Greek ‘phobos’ meaning ‘fear’.
Fear is a natural feeling, it is part of human nature. Indeed, it can be useful on occasions: it is part of the ‘fight or flight’ response that has helped us to make snap decisions in perilous situations throughout our development as a species.
Nevertheless, fear is only a useful tool in some situations. In others it can become a crippling emotion. Intense, irrational fears about specific things or activities (which are, in themselves, not dangerous) can take over a person’s life. These fears are called ‘anxiety disorders’ and the sufferer will go to enormous lengths to avoid the thing he/she fears. Sometimes the anxiety can worsen and lead to a ‘panic attack’, debilitating the sufferer with physical symptoms of his/her mental distress.
How do people get phobias?
There are various theories about the onset of phobias. Experiments have been done in which subjects were conditioned to actually develop phobias about snakes and flowers. Such experiments found that it is easier to produce a phobia about a snake than a flower – so some things really are more scary than others. However, most experts agree that Specific phobias (fear of dogs, injections, death, etc) are the result of something traumatic experienced when the sufferer was very young. The reasons for the development of other phobias, such as Social phobia (which includes fear of speaking in public) and Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces and/or crowded places), are harder to explain. It is suggested that sufferers may have a genetic predisposition to the condition.
How can people get rid of a phobia?
It is generally agreed that getting rid of a phobia is easier said than done. Experts use a variety of methods, with mixed results. The benefits of the treatments may often depend on the intensity of the phobia and the type of individual who is suffering from it. In some cases medication may be used. In others psychotherapy may be effective. Often one is used in conjunction with the other.
Some therapies involve repeatedly exposing the sufferer to the stimulus in an effort to desensitize him/her. Thus the phobic response will be weakened, the anxiety diluted. Some experts recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (known as CBT). This therapy helps the sufferer to understand the thought processes which produce the phobic response and enables him/her to alter the debilitating train of thought. CBT claims a high success rate. Hypnotherapy can also be used as an aid to affecting the negative associations which set off the phobic person’s panic response.
When is a phobia not a phobia?
A phobia is not a phobia when it is a ‘prejudice’ or ‘dislike’. For example, ‘homophobia’ is defined as ‘fear or dislike of homosexual people’. Likewise, xenophobia is a ‘fear or dislike of strangers’. These phobias are not anxiety disorders.
Discuss: Everybody is phobic about something
Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.
1. Fear is a natural feeling, it is part of human __________.
2. Nevertheless, fear is only a useful tool in some situations. In others it can become a __________ emotion.
3. The reasons for the development of other phobias, such as Social phobia (which includes fear of speaking in public) and __________ (fear of open spaces and/or crowded places), are harder to explain.
4. Some therapies __________ repeatedly exposing the sufferer to the stimulus in an effort to desensitize him/her.
5. A phobia is not a phobia when it is a "__________." or "dislike".