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Specific Phobia Treatment

Social phobia treatmentsHow can you help stop a phobia?

The treatment of specific phobias (also known as simple phobias) usually involves a type of psychotherapy called behavioral therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), depending upon the therapist. Any help in maintaining the social structure also helps to alleviate anxiety associated with the phobia, so work, school, and/or social activities should be maintained.

Psychotherapy for Phobias

Behavioral approaches are widely used in various anxiety disorders. Desensitization, by exposing the patient to graded doses of a phobic object or situation, is an effective technique and one that the patient can practice outside of the therapy session. Emotive imagery, wherein the patient imagines the anxiety-provoking situation while at the same time learning to relax, helps to decrease the anxiety when the patient faces the real life situation.

“Modeling” techniques are used when anxiety is related to lack of confidence and the patient looks to the therapist as a model of how to handle anxiety-provoking situations.

The relaxation techniques used by hypnotists and behavior therapists may prove helpful to many patients, especially those who are suggestible. In the initial stages, after therapists have instructed their patients in the various methods of relaxation, they should allow the patients to practice the methods in the office. In that way, therapists may add their encouragement and positive suggestions to their patients’ efforts. The ultimate goal is to enable patients to employ the techniques alone in the course of their daily lives.

Patients should not only follow a regular daily schedule of exercises, but should be encouraged to employ those exercises at any time when they are facing an anxiety-provoking situation or feel their inner tension rising. For those patients with a capacity for hypnotic trance, instruction in the techniques of self-hypnosis may potentiate the effect of the relaxation exercises.

Simple forms of meditation that do not have religious implications, by reversing the processes that lead to autonomic arousal, may be effective in combating the symptoms arising from autonomic nervous system discharge. A recent study suggests that the symptoms of those individuals who have a capacity for hypnotic trance induction are particularly responsive to the use of meditative techniques.

Medications for Phobias

No medication has been U.S. FDA-approved for the treatment of phobias. However, doctors may prescribe certain anti-anxiety medications intended to help alleviate the immediate anxious feelings associated with a phobic response. Medications, although not cures, can be very effective at relieving anxiety symptoms.

For most of the medications that are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, the doctor usually starts the patient on a low dose and gradually increases it to the full dose.

Every medication has side effects, but they usually become tolerated or diminish with time. If side effects become a problem, you should talk to your doctor about them as soon as possible.

Self-Help for Phobias

Self-help methods for the treatment of this disorder are often overlooked by the medical profession because very few professionals are involved in them. Encouraging the individual with a phobia to gain additional social support, however, is an important aspect of treatment. A variety of self-help books are readily available as well, that help teach people techniques to combat a phobia.

Many support groups exist within communities throughout the world which are devoted to helping individuals with this disorder share their commons experiences and feelings. Online support groups for phobias are also available.

Patients can be encouraged to try out new coping skills with people they meet within support groups. They can be an important part of expanding the individual’s skill set and develop new, healthier social relationships.

There is also information available on the treatment of social phobia (also known as social anxiety disorder).

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2017). Specific Phobia Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 24, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Mar 2017
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Mar 2017
Published on Psych All rights reserved.