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  • Definition

    A phobia is fear of an object or situation.


    Health professionals generally recognize three types of phobia: specific phobia, social phobia, and agoraphobia (with and without panic attacks). There is a separate diagnosis for people who repeatedly experience severe attacks of panic.


    Phobia treatment programs now exist in many parts of the U.S.. These programs use a variety of behavioral therapy techniques to help clients confront and overcome their fears. In addition, through these programs, drugs may be recommended and prescribed for individuals likely to benefit from them.

    In a typical program, phobic individuals work together in groups with a trained group leader. In some programs, family members and friends may also be invited to attend the weekly meetings. Group sessions are used to teach attitudes and skills that are helpful in overcoming phobias.

    The person with the phobia also has weekly practice sessions, either alone or in a group, with a therapist who is a mental health professional or a recovered phobic. During these sessions, the client uses his new coping skills in situations he would previously have avoided. With the therapist close by, he or she gradually takes progressively more difficult steps toward the final goal. Setbacks are expected and viewed as opportunities for further practice and gain.

    Agoraphobic clients who are housebound sometimes begin their treatment in their own homes. Although organized phobia treatment programs offer many advantages, they do not exist in all areas. Many individual therapists are experienced at working with phobic patients, and some will accompany their patients in fear-producing situations.

    Not every form of treatment is appropriate for every patient or client. Nor does every therapist or phobia program offer all forms of treatment, psychotherapy, behavior therapy, and medications. Often, a combination of these treatments is necessary. If you feel that you are not being helped by one clinic, program, or therapist, you may wish to seek help elsewhere.


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