Phobias-Topic Overview

What is a phobia?

Phobias, despite not being a serious psychiatric disorder, are a psychological disorder with much negative repercussion in the daily life of the person.

The Mental Disorders Diagnostic Handbook (DSM-IV) defines a phobia as “an accused and persistent fear that is excessive or irrational, triggered by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation.” It is the exaggeration of an experience common to all human beings, fear, with the difference that fear prepares us and helps to protect us from situations of real or imaginary danger (for example, when watching a horror movie), And phobias refer to a hypothetical internal, irrational, intense and uncontrollable danger that blocks the development of the person’s existence, since it does not protect, but limits, and may affect the relationship with their environment and their beings Dear ones.

Differences between fear, anxiety and phobia:

Fear is a common basic emotion, characteristic of human evolution and necessary to keep us alive, since it alerts us to a danger and prepares us for it, both to confront it and to avoid it if it is excessive. Therefore, all living beings experience fear as an adaptive emotion.

Anxiety is a reaction of fear in the face of an event that triggers it but is not usually considered something that causes fear. The person is not able to explain what happens to him and accepts it as an illness or as part of his character from which to be released. Anxiety derives from precise but exaggerated reasoning and transforms something seemingly innocuous, into something extremely dangerous, so that it is not so much the external reaction that triggers fear, but what the subject thinks about it, the valuation it makes of its ability to face it.

As for the phobia, we could say that arises from the anxiety that is generated only in relation to very precise situations or objects together with the avoidance by the person of said situation or object. That is, to avoid anxiety, the subject avoids the stimulus believing that in this way manages to eliminate it completely. Although the truth is that this pattern of response generates more limitations than long-term benefits.

Therefore, fear is an indispensable emotion for survival, anxiety is a common experience in every human being and that in small proportions may even be beneficial, and phobias, on the other hand, are a disorder that does not have any Advantage, but generates many damages. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate a fear from a phobia list but the biggest difference is that the latter is irrational, uncontrollable and limiting.

Criteria for the diagnosis of a specific phobia:

According to the diagnostic manual for mental disorders, the criteria for the diagnosis of a specific phobia are:

Accused and persistent fear that is excessive or irrational, triggered by the presence of a specific object or situation.

Exposure to such stimulus causes an immediate anxiety response, which can take the form of an anxiety crisis.

The person recognizes that fear is excessive and irrational. Note: in children this recognition may be missing.

The phobic situation or situations are avoided or endured at the cost of intense anxiety or discomfort.

Avoidance behaviors, anxious anticipation, or discomfort strongly interfere with the person’s normal routine.

Under the age of 18 the duration must have been at least 6 months.

Anxiety, anguish crisis or avoidance behaviors cannot be explained better than by the presence of another mental disorder.

Types of phobias:

Phobias can be classified according to the stimulus that triggers them, but basically they can be classified into three types:

1. Specific Phobias:

- Animal type: Fear refers to certain animals or insects.

- Environmental: Fear refers to situations typical of the natural environment or climatic phenomena.

- Blood-Injections-Damage: This is a fear of blood, injections, surgery or any invasive intervention.

- Situational: The fear appears before certain specific situations as can be, to travel by plane, to be in a closed place…

- Other: They are not classified in any of the other subtypes since there is a wide spectrum of stimuli that can trigger a phobia.

2. Social Phobia:

In this type of phobias, what creates fear are social situations, situations that have to do with the relationship of the person with others, situations in which the individual experiences great discomfort. The most common situations can be: fear of being with many people or the opposite, fear of being alone, fear of talking to strangers…

3. Generalized phobias:

It is the well-known generalized anxiety disorder. In this case, the person experiences elevated fear, anxiety, and worry in the face of a wide variety of events.

What are the causes?

The causes of the onset of a phobia are not always clear and there may not be a single cause to explain why certain people suffer from it.

Many phobias can have their origin in childhood. The person, being a minor, may experience a traumatic event and then associate it with the object or situation that generates fear and, therefore, must avoid. All children experience adaptive fears and fears for children and they are reminiscent as the child grows, unlike phobias, what they do is maintain and even increase over time. The association can be direct, ie the phobic element causes fear in the person as a result of an event (for example, a child who is bitten by a dog and who develops the dog phobia afterwards), or Can be an indirect association, which means that the person after a traumatic event with a particular element, moves him to others.

Another possible cause is genetic and environmental factors that may favor the onset of phobia. Also as a repetition through a learned behavior, for example, that the children repeat the phobias of their parents.

It may also happen that the person does not remember the cause of the phobia, but in any case and regardless of the trigger, the common thing to all of them is the avoidance reaction on the part of the person and the deterioration that this can lead to Different levels: social, work, family, affective ….

Treatment for phobias:

Oddly enough, phobias are not a strange disorder, on the contrary, it is very common for people to have one type of phobia or another, with women having the highest incidence.

It is important to know that a phobia does not usually go away on its own, so it is important to ask for help. The first thing to consider is to be able to obtain the diagnosis of a professional, who values ​​our case in particular and who recommends us the best way to approach the problem. It is essential that the person does not undergo any type of treatment without first consulting with a professional.

There are several treatments to help people with a phobia, and depending on each case, will be more effective one or the other.

Specific phobias are usually treated through psychotherapy, a treatment in which the patient understands the causes of his phobia and at the same time acquires techniques to reduce anxiety in the phobic stimulus. Some of these may be Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique (for muscle tension) or other relaxation and breathing techniques. In other words, what is sought is a richer and more articulated knowledge of the emotional system while offering other techniques.

Within the behavioral therapies is the technique of exposure. In it it is a question of the person, with the help of the professional, is confronted, gradually and progressively, with the phobic stimulus. In this way, it is tried that the person is exerting control over the anxiety and the fear that generates to him. Here also is the technique of systematic desensitization, which consists in exposing the person, in an imaginary way, to the stimuli that produce the ansyogenic response. Through imagination, and utilizing relaxation strategies, the person is confronted with the phobic elements until their level of anxiety is reduced. Once the imagination phase is completed, the same exercise can be performed in real situations.

In cognitive therapy, information is sought on the dreaded stimulus and attempts are made to detect the anxious thoughts that interfere and affect it so that they can be modified by others.

Pharmacological treatment also works on anxious phenomena, although it is important to clarify that it should never be the only treatment and that it should be complemented with therapy.

The key to effective treatment is that the person is determined to work to overcome it, to know that it is going to be a non-linear process, to be patient and not to feel defeated, but to value all the advances that are being given.