Telehealth for Phobias

Telehealth for Phobias

Fears regarding certain activities, situations, animals, or certain objects are not uncommon. A lot of people feel anxious when faced with something that scares them such as a spider, heights, or travel via plane. Fear is a completely normal response to a situation that may be a threat to your safety. However, some people may react to certain things by irrationally exaggerating the danger they are in. The feelings of panic or terror felt may be out of proportion to the actual threat. Sometimes even the thought of the feared situation or thing or seeing it on TV could be enough to trigger a strong fear response. These types of exaggerated reactions can be indicative of a specific phobia.


Individuals with specific phobias are usually aware that their fears are irrational, yet they are unable to control their physical reaction and step into reality. It is common to experience panic attacks when exposed to a phobia. A panic attack may include physical symptoms such as choking, nausea, a rapidly beating heart, faintness, chest pain, dizziness, hot or cold flushes or excessive sweating.



Types of Phobias

Many different types of phobias exist and it is common for an individual who has experienced phobias to experience multiple over the course of their life. 


Specific phobias are typically divided into five categories grouped by the type of thing that triggers a fear response:

  • Natural environment types of phobias: fear associated with the natural environment. This includes phobias such as fear of heights (acrophobia) or fear of thunder.
  • Situation types of phobias: fear of a specific situation. Examples include fear of tunnels, elevators, bridges or driving.
  • Blood/injection or injury types of phobias: fear associated with medical procedures or injury. Specific examples include fear of needles, seeing blood (haemophobia) or breaking a bone.
  • Animal types of phobias: fears that relate to animals or insects. This includes fear of dogs or spiders (arachnophobia).
  • Other types of phobias: any other specific phobias that don’t fit into one of the categories above such as fear of choking, fear of vomiting (emetophobia), fear of holes (trypophobia), or fear of emotional attachment (philophobia).


Another commonly experienced phobia is the fear of public speaking. This phobia however typically falls under the category of a social phobia or a social anxiety disorder which is where a person is overly concerned about how they appear to others. It differs from other specific phobias as it is not so much linked to a fear of danger but rather a fear of social ostracism. 


Symptoms of Specific Phobias

You may have a specific phobia if you:

  • have an excessive or unreasonable fear towards a specific object, activity and/or situation
  • avoid situations where you feel you may encounter your phobia 
  • feel high levels of distress or worry before a situation where you expect you may encounter your phobia
  • find yourself choosing to do something in a way that will take longer or be harder in order to avoid having to face your phobia or a situation that may have your phobia

For example a person may have a fear of elevators. They will choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator even if it takes much longer or all their friends are taking the elevator. They may avoid going to places if there is no option but an elevator to get to their destination. If they are required to use an elevator they may feel faint or have a panic attack.


Causes of Specific Phobias:

There is not always a clear reason why some people develop phobias and others do not however research suggests that some factors may increase a person's risk of developing a specific phobia. Some risk factors for developing specific phobias include:

  • Temperament: if you are someone who worries easily or likes to always be in control you may be more at risk of developing a phobia.
  • Traumatic experience: if you have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event you may feel extremely fearful of similar situations long after the event. For example if you have been trapped in an elevator you may develop a phobia of elevators.
  • Genetic predisposition: some research suggests that you may be more likely to develop a phobia if someone in your family also has specific phobias.
  • Indirect learning: if you have seen other people commonly respond to certain situations or objects with fear, especially in your childhood, you may be more at risk of developing a phobia over these triggers.


Diagnosis of phobias

Typically to be diagnosed as having a specific phobia you need to have experienced symptoms of a phobia for longer than six months and be experiencing significant distress or interference in important aspects of your life as a result of your specific fear. Only a trained medical professional such as a psychologist is able to formally diagnose a phobia. 


Treatment of phobias

Phobias are treatable and seeking professional support is the first step towards recovery. Psychological treatments will generally be the first line of treatment. In some severe cases, medication can also be effective.

The two most common types of psychological treatment for specific phobias are:

  • Cognitive therapy: the patient is taught how to identify and challenge unwanted thoughts resulting in healthier thinking patterns when exposed to their phobia
  • Exposure therapy: the patient is exposed to their phobia or a form of their phobia in a controlled environment where they can learn to confront and overcome their fear. 

It is also common for both types of psychological treatment to be used together alongside other therapy styles as best suits the needs of the patient.


If you feel you are suffering from specific phobias and you would like some support, reach out to one of our mental health clinicians here at Inner Psych. Our professionals are able to provide a comprehensive online assessment of your condition and personalize an ongoing treatment plan to help you take back control of your life.

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