Phobias and irrational fears

Specific phobias

Is a phobia limiting your behaviour and life or career choices? Learn how to recognize, treat, and overcome the problem. At J&R Psychology in Perth, we help you overcome the problem with evidence-based therapy for specific phobias and irrational fears.
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Specific phobia: Irrational fears? 

Many people have a certain situation or object that makes them feel scared or uneasy. Perhaps you feel nervous when on a plane that’s taking off. Or, you don’t like finding a spider crawling under the chair you’re sitting on. If these worries don’t have much impact on your life, they would not be classified as phobias.

People with a specific phobia have a fear of a particular situation or object that is intense and excessive. In fact, the fear is so strong that they will try to avoid the thing they’re afraid of, even when this really gets in the way of them doing things that are important to them.

Common phobias in adults and children include:

  • fear of heights
  • fear of flying
  • fear of closed spaces
  • fear of needles/injections/blood (this is called blood injection injury phobia)
  • fear of animals or insects (e.g., dogs, snakes, spiders)
  • fear of storms (or loud noises)
  • fear of vomiting
  • fear of the dark

To distinguish true phobias from general fears it’s important to consider if the fear is unreasonable or excessive.

Is the fear beyond what we might expect someone to feel in response to that object or situation? Does it get in the way of a person engaging in their life? Is the phobic reaction out of proportion to the actual danger that the situation or object poses? For example, is a panic attack triggered by the presence of a leashed dog in the park? Sometimes people with a phobia will recognise that their response to the trigger is out of proportion, but not all people with phobias will have this insight.

People who have a specific phobia will often go out of their way to avoid an object or situation that triggers their anxiety. This avoidance has a significant impact on their life and may cause a great deal of distress. If this very pronounced fear of a particular object or situation with associated avoidance has persisted for 6 months or more, then a specific phobia diagnosis is given.

Specific phobias are estimated to affect about 1 person in 10, and this is similar in children and adults. Phobias often start in middle childhood (around age 8). They are slightly more common in females than in males.

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Treatment for specific phobias

Specific phobias can be effectively treated by using cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). CBT involves gradual exposure to the feared object or situation. It may take several CBT sessions to change the way you think.

For example, in working with a person experiencing a phobia of spiders, the following may occur in therapy:

  • Development of a supportive and trusting relationship with your therapist.
  • Education about the anxiety response, and strategies to manage anxiety symptoms and become less concerned about them.
  • Being clear about how life will improve when the fear of spiders is not in charge.
  • Identification of beliefs about spiders and specific worries and predictions about what will happen whilst being near a spider.
  • Gradual exposure to spiders at your own pace: This may start with looking at a photo of a spider, viewing a video of a spider, imagining coping with a spider present, viewing a dead spider, viewing spider webs, entering a situation where spiders may be present (e.g. garden shed), viewing a living spider in an enclosure (e.g. a jar), viewing a living spider across the room etc until you feel that the fear is having a much-reduced impact on your life.

CBT emphasises developing a sense of mastery and confidence with anxiety-provoking thoughts and feelings so that feared situations become less overwhelming. As with other anxiety disorders, phobias may also require medication as part of treatment.

Your J&R psychologist will structure the intervention for your unique experience, and pace it in a way that feels manageable.

Do you feel that irrational fears are having an impact on your daily activities? You are not alone. Contact J&R psychologists to book an appointment. We have rooms in West Perth, Como and Murdoch.

Contact J&R Clinical Psychologists

Fax08 6113 7430
Healthlink IDjrpsychs
West Perth practice

21 Ord Street,
West Perth WA 6005

Sleep Matters Subiaco
Como practice

400 Canning Hwy
Como 6152 WA
(enter off Greenock Ave)

Jeffrey & Ree psychologists in Como