Tackle your fears without a therapist

Blood, needles, doctors and dentists most common medical phobias

Hamilton, ON Martin Antony, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, estimates that 30 million North Americans have some sort of medical phobia, which, as he states in the introduction of his new book, makes the subject almost commonplace.

That's one of the reasons why Antony and his colleague Dr. Mark Watling wrote Overcoming Medical Phobias. The book is part self-help and part case study, and provides exercises and techniques on how to come to grips with many phobias. The best strategy to deal with a phobia the doctors say is to tackle it head-on but cautiously, using a multi-step hierarchy. "By taking small steps," the authors write, "you stand a better chance of being successful. And success at each small step will bring you closer to your ultimate goal."

The most common phobias, says Antony, deal with blood, needles, doctors and dentists. These are often from a person's reactions to the first experience which may include pain or fainting, or witnessing the reaction of a loved one.

While there is no shortage of people with medical phobias, Antony says there is a surprising lack of helpful advice on the shelves. "No books are available that talk about a particular fear," he says, "and yet the more specific the information about a phobia, the more successful the solutions will be in helping someone overcome them."

The book is not meant for the mildly squeamish; it is designed for those whom their particular phobia presents an obstacle to normal daily living.

Based on techniques developed at the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, Antony's and Watling's approach is a step-by-step method that requires the person, without the help of a therapist, to track his or her progress in a methodical way.

"The centre uses a semi-structured interview to assess symptoms for each anxiety disorder. We also use a series of other tools, such as self-report and clinician-administered scales, diaries and monitoring forms, to assess the various features of anxiety disorders, and determine the severity of the problem," says Antony.


Martin Anthony is available for interviews.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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