Overcoming Phobias Using Your Smart Phone

Health Writer

Phobias are an intense, extreme or irrational fear of something specific. Some common phobias include the fear of spiders, flying, dogs, snakes, heights, needles and agoraphobia, which is the fear of being in a situation or place where escape is difficult such as crowded malls. Treatment for these types of phobias usually includes exposure therapy. You are slowly introduced to the feared object or situation, in stages. For example, if you are afraid of dogs, you might start with looking at pictures of dogs, then move to listening to a dog bark. Next, you might watch a dog through a window and then have the dog in the same room, but on a leash. This process continues until you are able to pet the dog. Exposure therapy works best if you stay with each step until your fears are reduced, then move on to the next step.

Traditionally, exposure therapy used the "real thing." In other words, once you moved past looking at pictures, you would begin exposing yourself to a live dog. But, new technology has allowed for exposure therapy to be done virtually. According to the American Psychological Association, virtual exposure therapy does help and numerous studies have shown that it helps in overcoming many different types of fears, including spiders, heights, storms, flying and public speaking. Whether using in-person therapy or virtual therapy, many people work directly with a therapist.

Today there are apps that claim to help you overcome phobias and fears. Hypnosis apps are one type. There are many different hypnosis apps available. Hypnosis works by creating a calm and relaxed state, where you are more open to suggestion. Then, you are given suggestions not to be afraid. Most people work directly with a therapist for hypnosis, however, you might find the apps work by helping you relax and better cope with the situation or fear. Some provide (for an additional cost), hypnosis for specific fears, for example, the app, Freedom from Fears and Phobias by Darren Marks, costs $2.99 to purchase the app, but once you do you can purchase a more specific version for fears such as injections, agoraphobia, claustrophobia, spiders, being along, heights, driving, water, flying, dentist and public speaking. Each additional purchase is listed at $2.99 as well. It was rated 4 stars on iTunes. This is one example; there are a number of different hypnosis apps available for both Apple and Android.

A new app, geared toward the fear of spiders, provides virtual exposure to spiders. The app has a series of games you play with the spiders as you move from the first cartoon-like, friendly spider. As you move through the games, the images of the spiders become more life-like, with the last spider being a tarantula. The app creators told ABCNews that those people who work through the entire app in one sitting can cure themselves from their fear of spiders in four hours, however, most people take several weeks to go through the entire program. The app was approved by the National Health System in England.

Another company, Phobious, is in the process of developing virtual exposure therapy, available with or without a therapist. Once you purchase the app, you can choose one of 19 different phobias. The app is used with a headset and 3D goggles to enter you into a virtual world. For $49.00, you can have unlimited sessions (however the goggles cost an additional $100.00). If you choose to work with a therapist (two sessions with a therapist), the cost is $299.00. The company plans to seek approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for anxiety. They hope the package will be available in the fall of 2014. Being able to use the program on your own, in the comfort of your home, may be more convenient and less expensive than going to the therapist's office each week, especially if you live in an area where it is difficult to find a reputable therapist experienced in exposure therapy.

Sometimes phobias are merely a nuisance in your life but for some people, phobias and fears interfere with their daily lives, stopping them from getting a job, enjoying time with friends or even leaving their homes. Programs such as these, where exposure therapy is convenient and affordable, is a big step toward helping millions of people living in fear.