A phobia is defined as a strong, irrational fear of something – be it a situation, an object, a person, an animal, or an experience. For many people with phobias, simply avoiding the subject of their fear is enough. But for others, having a phobia is debilitating and has a negative impact on their lives. If you suffer from a strong fear of something and have been wondering if counselling can really help with a phobia, then we’re here to tell you that YES – there is help! Read on for more information about treating phobias, the types of phobias that can be treated, and how counselling can help your phobia.
Types of phobias and how they affect people
Phobias are very common. It is estimated that around 11% of the Australian population suffer from a phobia, and there are countless types of phobias. Some of the most common phobias include:
- Snakes, spiders or other animals
- Blood or needles
- Water or swimming
- Being alone
- Confined spaces
- Driving or being in a vehicle
These types of fears, as well as many others not on this list, can be very debilitating and disruptive to the life of someone with a phobia. It can mean everything from trying to avoid the subject of the fear (for example, avoiding snakes or spiders) to changing lifestyle and habits to insure against having to confront the fear (for example, refusing to fly in planes). For some people, it’s no big deal. Avoiding looking over a high balcony for fear of heights might not inhibit your quality of life, for example. But for many people who suffer from a phobia, it can mean they have difficulty doing their job, enjoying time with friends or family, or worse. For someone with a fear of confined spaces, for example, just getting into an elevator can bring about a panic attack. And avoiding elevators for the rest of your life is no small task, given the types of buildings we regularly work or live in these days. Strong phobias can cause everything from avoidant behavior to full-blown panic attacks, and even serious and ongoing anxiety.
The trouble with a phobia as opposed to normal, rational fear, is that it can’t be rationalised. Using logic to try to help with a phobia can be ineffective and incredibly frustrating for the person suffering. Unfortunately, for those without phobias, it can be tempting to try to make the sufferer use logic and reasoning to feel better about their fear. For very mild phobias or those that haven’t been around for years, this may have some limited success. But for those with long-term or moderate to severe phobias, it can be hurtful, stressful, and make them feel embarrassed or extra anxious.
How to know when you need help with a phobia
Many people have a fear of something. Spiders may give you the creeps, or driving in fast cars might not be your idea of fun, for example. Maybe you avoid scary movies because you’re likely to get nightmares. None of these things are necessarily unusual, nor are they likely to keep you up at night. Being confronted with something you’re afraid of might result in:
- Increased heart rate
- Fast breathing
- Sweaty palms
- Feeling nervous
For someone with a phobia, however, these symptoms are just the beginning. For someone with a moderate to severe phobia, symptoms become more severe (quick breathing can become hyperventilation, for example) and can result in huge floods of anxiety. For someone with a severe phobia, even thinking about the subject of their fear can cause a panic attack.
For around half of people with a specific phobia, symptoms are mild. But for the other half, symptoms can be intense and severe. If you’re someone who experiences moderate or severe anxiety because of a phobia, or you find that your life is inhibited unreasonably because of your fear, it’s time to get help. Thankfully, there is therapy available that can help with a phobia.
Types of therapy that can help with a phobia
Phobias fall under the ‘anxiety’ category when it comes to mental health and, as such, are often approached similarly to anxiety. Some therapists who specialise in anxiety treatment also offer therapies that can help with a phobia. The types of therapy your counsellor might use to help with a phobia include:
Talking therapies: Counselling such as ‘talking therapy’ can be incredibly helpful for some people with a phobia. Talking therapy is just like it sounds and involves discussing your phobia. But a counsellor’s expertise is in helping you to understand where your fear comes from (including any underlying causes you might not even be aware of), why the fear has manifested into a phobia, and most importantly, how to overcome your phobia with certain strategies. A counsellor who understands how to identify and treat phobias, has a range of strategies in their toolbelt to help you tackle your phobia. And these strategies can have an almost immediate effect on alleviating and even ridding you of your phobia altogether.
Cognitive behavioural therapy: CBT or ‘cognitive behavioural therapy’ refers to a type of therapy aimed at addressing negative thoughts, emotions, and behavioural patterns and ‘retraining your brain’ to engage in more healthy ways of thinking and acting. It might sound complicated or overly scientific, but actually, it’s a very effective therapeutic technique that put simply; combines talking about your thoughts and emotions with practical, effective strategies to change those patterns.
Exposure therapy: Exposure to the source of the fear can really help with a phobia, under the right circumstances. For moderate to severe phobias, however, this should not be attempted without the support of a trained and experienced therapist. The trouble with a phobia is that exposure, when not done carefully and under the right circumstances, can compound the fear and exacerbate its symptoms. That’s why seeing a counsellor who understands and has experience in treating phobias is crucial.
Mindfulness training: Mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can help with a phobia. You can even try these things at home to complement your counselling sessions.
Hypnotherapy: For some people with a phobia, the best solution is hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy works by communicating directly with your subconscious mind to unlock thought patterns, emotions, and behaviours that are unhelpful or harmful. This type of therapy can be particularly helpful for people with a phobia who are too anxious about it to attempt talking therapies or exposure therapy. Hypnotherapy is a safe and effective way to address your phobia, without exposing you to it or causing you greater anxiety. Find out more about hypnotherapy here.
If you’re experiencing a debilitating fear, know that counselling can really help with a phobia. In fact, it could change your life! Get in touch with us to find out more and begin your journey to living without fear today.