Phobias Causes The Medical Model in Psychology Medical Causes and Treatments for Phobias By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. Learn about our editorial process Updated on October 23, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images Are mental illnesses caused by physical differences in the brain? The medical model of mental illness is rooted in the belief that mental disorders have physical causes. Based on this model, mental illness should be treated—at least in part—as a medical condition, typically through the use of prescription medications. Medications for mental illness change brain chemistry. In most cases, these medications add or modify a chemical that is responsible for problems with mood, perception, anxiety, or other issues. In the correct dosage, medication can have a profoundly positive impact on functioning. The Brain Chemistry of Anxiety Disorders and Phobias Studies have shown that those who suffer from anxiety disorders, including phobias, have a problem with the regulation of serotonin levels in their brains. Serotonin is a chemical that acts as a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters modulate the signals between neurons and other cells. Serotonin acts in the brain and, among other things, moderates mood. A serotonin level that is too high or too low can cause both depression and anxiety. Consequently, phobias are often treated with a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Normally serotonin is released from a nerve cell into the synaptic gap between cells. It is recognized by the second nerve cell, which then transmits a signal to the brain. The serotonin is then recaptured by the first nerve cell. An SSRI prevents some of the serotonin from being reabsorbed. It stays in the synaptic gap in order to further stimulate the second nerve cell. SSRIs are not the only medications used in the treatment of phobias but are among the most effective. They must be used with caution, however, particularly in young people, as there can be serious side effects. How Genetics Maybe Play a Role in Phobias Researchers have also discovered that genetics may play a role in the development of phobias. Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that is dedicated to the study of the structure and function of the brain. Although they have not yet isolated the specific gene that is responsible for phobias, researchers have found certain genetic anomalies in patients that suffer from phobias. Whether or not there is a specific genetic difference in all phobia sufferers is not yet known. Genetic Predisposition An increasingly popular theory of mental disorders is based on the concept of triggering events. This model is commonly used to explain schizophrenia, but may also explain the development of phobias. In this theory, a certain percentage of people have the genetic trait that causes mental illness. However, most people who have that trait do not develop a disorder. The disorder occurs only after a triggering event. The triggering event is different for each person but is generally a trauma or a time of severe stress. The psychological and emotional reaction to the trauma triggers the mental disorder, but only in people who carry the genetic predisposition. Although this theory is relatively new and quite controversial, it would help to explain why such major events as combat or natural disasters affect different people in wildly different ways. Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Villafuerte, Sandra, and Burmeister, Margit. Untangling genetic networks of panic, phobia, fear and anxiety. Genome Biology. July 28, 2003. 4(8):224. By Lisa Fritscher Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.