Specific Phobia and Helpful Treatments


Specific phobia is characterized by a fear of a specific object or situation. Examples include fear of certain animals or insects, heights, blood/injections, elevators, driving or flying on planes. The object or situation causes high levels of anxiety which may result in a panic attack. While the individual may recognize that their fear is unreasonable they continue to experience distress and may go to great lengths to avoid exposure to the feared object or situation. This combination of distress and avoidance can greatly interfere with the individual’s daily functioning. Furthermore they often feel very distressed about having the phobia.

It is always recommended that individuals experiencing anxiety symptoms visit their family physician to rule out a medical cause for the symptoms.

Compared to other types of anxiety disorders, there is little disagreement about the appropriate treatment for specific phobias. It is generally accepted that exposure therapy is the gold-standard of treatment, and that medications provide minimal benefit in the long term.  Exposure therapy is a behavioural treatment that is a component of most CBT treatments for anxiety.  It involves gradual confrontation of the feared object/situation by the patient.  Numerous studies have shown that exposure therapy is effective for a wide variety of specific phobias, and often individuals can experience marked improvement in their symptoms after only a few sessions.