What is a phobia?

A phobia is a type of anxiety disorder which consistently produces immense fear which can feel overwhelming and debilitating.  Phobias last for more than six months and can develop towards objects, places, scenarios, sensations, animals or concepts.  Unlike typical fear responses, if you have a phobia there may be extreme physical and psychological distress experienced when thinking about the phobia which intensifies at the prospect of encountering it.  There are two main types of phobia:

  • Specific phobias – This is the most common form of phobia, surrounding an isolated stimulus for example, a phobia of spiders.  People can have more than one specific phobia, for example, phobia of height in addition to spiders
  • Complex phobias-  This is less common and are typically more debilitating than specific phobias due to association with situations that are likely to arise in everyday life that are perhaps even unavoidable without leading an atypical or unhealthy lifestyle.  Examples include Agoraphobia, which is the fear of being in open spaces and Social phobia, which is the fear or anxiety towards social situations, particularly being humiliated or speaking in public.  

What Causes Phobias?

It is difficult to define any single cause of phobias, as each experience can vary to a large degree.  Research indicates that there are multiple factors to be explored with people in order to determine the likely triggers underlying their phobia(s), which include:

  • Genetic factors- Some evidence suggests that people can be predisposed to higher levels of anxiety than others, making the development of phobias more likely
  • Behavioural factors- Research suggests that phobias can be learned from a close family member such as parents or siblings during early childhood and modelled unconsciously
  • Trauma- Sometimes critical incidents we experience as traumatic can be associated with the development of a phobia, for example, being trapped in a lift for 6 hours may trigger the onset of claustrophobia.

Do I have a phobia?

If you have related to any of the above, it may be useful to consult with your GP or undergo psychological assessment to explore your experiences further.  The most common symptoms of phobias include:

  • Physical anxiety response in relation to phobia (Panic attacks, sweating, nausea, heart palpitations, trembling, bladder urgency, IBS)
  • Avoidance behaviours (Staying away from certain places, cancelling or changing plans if there is a likelihood of triggering phobia)
  • Isolation
  • Significant impact upon everyday life (Limiting activities to certain times of the day, inability to maintain a job or relationship)

In addition to these symptoms, people with debilitating phobias are at higher risk of experiencing negative affect including depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm, isolation, generalised anxiety disorder and disordered eating behaviours.  However, if you notice that you are engaging in any of the above, it is never too late to seek support and engage in interventions which can help manage your symptoms and perhaps eventually overcome the phobia(s).

How online therapy can help phobias?

In online therapy, you can explore your experiences in a safe, non-judgemental space and collaborate with your therapist to create a plan which suits your needs and helps you meet your goals.  Typically, your online therapist will encourage you to reflect upon how the phobia(s) developed and help you challenge any unhelpful or irrational beliefs you may have, such as ‘If I get into a lift I will have a panic attack’.   This process may be daunting, however, your therapist can safely guide you through ‘distress tolerance’ methods which help you relax and cope better with any unsettling thoughts and feelings.  If you have more than one specific phobia that you wish to address, it is recommended that you focus upon one to start with.    

There is strong evidence-based support for Cognitive behavioural methods and ‘hierarchical exposure therapy’ in effectively overcoming phobias.  Therefore, your therapist may introduce these methods where appropriate after fully explaining how they may help.  This may involve looking at how to break cycles of fear, or creating a hierarchy of fears surrounding your phobia ranging from low to high and systematically working your way through these whilst engaging in safe methods of relaxation and grounding.  Please note that you will establish a suitable pace with your therapist depending on your levels of anxiety and will only be encouraged to try things that you feel ready for and fully consent to.  

Whichever intervention you decide upon with your therapist, the aim is to hopefully improve quality of life so that you are no longer limited by your phobia(s).  A positive outcome might be improved management of your reactions, thoughts and feelings, resulting in overall reduced anxiety and fear to eventually eliminate the phobia.  The process may even help you achieve improved wellbeing in response to other aspects of your daily life that can be stressful or anxiety provoking. 

No-Obligation discussion

Free initial telephone discussion

If you are looking for online therapy please contact Teresa Lewis for a 15 minute no obligation discussion. Teresa is a BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor and Psychotherapist so she will be able to briefly discuss your issues, answer questions and explain more about how online therapy can help address a phobia.  At this time you can decide whether you would like to book an appointment. The discussion is conducted without any obligation to book an appointment.

Make an appointment for online therapy

If you would like to speak to one of our therapists regarding online therapy for a phobia please call: 01902 827808.  Alternatively, fill out our online contact form and we will contact you within 24 hours.


Medical disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice by a qualified doctor.