Finding a Therapist to Treat Your Phobia

Young woman cries as therapist watches with empathy
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Phobias, which are extreme irrational fears of certain things (like fear of insects/entomophobia) or situations (like fear of flying/aerophobia), can be treated with therapy, but when you're looking for a therapist, you may not know where to start.

This article discusses how to find the right therapist to treat your phobia. It also covers some of the different types of therapy for phobias and how they might inform your search for a mental health professional to treat your condition.

Finding the Right Therapist

Finding the right therapist for your needs is important. Not only does this person need to be qualified to treat phobias, but you also need to feel comfortable with them. Research suggests that your relationship with your therapist, known as therapeutic rapport, can have an impact on the efficacy of your treatment.

Follow this guide to find a great therapist who can help you learn to manage your fears.

Get a Referral

Your friends, family, and medical doctor may be able to recommend a therapist to you. Many larger cities also provide referral hotlines, which are generally free of charge. 

Another wonderful source for referrals is your local university or medical center. These facilities often have mental health centers attached, where you can find a variety of mental health specialists. Keep in mind that referrals from mental health providers are generally the most reliable.

Check Credentials

Although most therapists are excellent, pseudo-therapists with dubious credentials do exist. Make sure that you choose a reputable professional.

All therapists must have a license to practice; this information should be prominently displayed on their website. But if it isn't, make sure to ask the therapist about their licensure.

Most licensed clinical psychologists spend an average of seven years in training after college to earn doctoral degrees.

Inquire About Specialization

Many therapists choose to specialize in a particular branch of therapy. Others limit their practices to certain age groups. Call the offices or visit the websites of potential therapists to determine if they treat clients of your age with phobias.

Check With Your Insurance Company

Most insurance companies maintain a list of preferred mental health providers, which may be available online. Using a preferred provider generally results in out-of-pocket savings.

Be Upfront

Therapists are used to working with insurance companies. Your therapist should be able to communicate with your insurance company to determine the extent of your coverage and how much you will have to pay at the onset of therapy. Once this is determined, work with your therapist to develop the best possible treatment plan.

Under the mental health parity laws of 2010, if your insurance company offers mental health benefits, they can't be more severely restricted than those offered for physical illnesses. Additionally, mental health benefits are considered an "essential benefit" under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which took effect in 2014.

Look Into Low-Cost Alternatives

If you are uninsured or underinsured, you may qualify for low-cost or sliding scale services at your local community mental health center. Look online or call your local health clinic for information about services in your area. Some universities will also have affiliated training clinics where graduate students under supervision by licensed professionals provide low-cost therapy services.

Consider a Group Seminar

Although self-diagnosis can be dangerous, if your phobia is obvious and isolated, such as a fear of flying, a group seminar may be helpful.

Online support groups are good sources of information on targeted seminars for a range of specific phobias.

Interview the Potential Therapist

Your first appointment will consist of an intake interview. The therapist will ask you many questions, but it's also a good opportunity to ask some questions of your own.

It's important for you and your therapist to establish a rapport, so don't hesitate to interview them and see if you click. It can be difficult to trust someone immediately, but complete honesty in the first session is the best way to see if your chosen therapist is right for you.

Recap

Before you choose a therapist to treat your phobia, ask for referrals, check the professional's credentials, and make sure that your insurance will cover your treatment. Then see if the therapist offers an initial consultation where you can determine if they are a good match for you.

Types of Therapy for Phobias

There are a number of different types of therapy that can be used to treat phobias. The approach that is right for you can depend on a variety of factors including the severity of your symptoms and your personal preferences. Some types of therapy you might consider include the following.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy, a form of cognitive behavior therapy, is typically the first line of treatment recommended for phobias. This approach involves gradually exposing a person to the object or situation that triggers their fear response.

During this exposure, people practice relaxation techniques so that they can learn to calm their mind and body when anxiety and fear start to take over.

Through repeated, gradual, progressive exposures, the fear begins to lessen. Research suggests that exposure therapy can be a highly effective technique for treating phobias.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also commonly used to treat phobias. CBT focuses on helping people identify the underlying negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to feelings of fear and anxiety. After learning to identify these thought patterns, people then work with a therapist to replace those thoughts with more helpful, positive, realistic ones.

CBT also helps people learn new coping techniques that can be helpful when dealing with fear-inducing situations. For example, instead of dealing with fear using avoidance, your therapist might help you learn relaxation techniques that can ease feelings of anxiety.

Mindfulness Training

Mindfulness is a practice that involves focusing on the present without worrying about the past or future. It can be helpful for building better self-awareness and easing feelings of fear.

One approach, known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), utilizes mindfulness meditation to help people learn how to better cope with feelings of stress and anxiety.

This practice can help soothe your nerves and make fear-inducing situations seem less overwhelming.

Recap

While your specific course of treatment may vary, phobias are often treated with gradual exposure to the source of your fear with the support of a therapist. Learning to change your distorted thoughts and practicing relaxation techniques can also help.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to find a therapist who is right for your treatment needs. This process can seem intimidating, but spending a little time on this step can be worth it.

Research which types of therapy are available, ask your doctor for referrals and be sure to check potential therapists' credentials to make sure they have training and experience with treating phobias. Once you find someone you feel comfortable with, you can start the process of overcoming your phobia.

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2 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.
  1. Norcross JC. Conclusions and Recommendations of the Interdivisional (APA Divisions 12 & 29) Task Force on Evidence-Based Therapy Relationships. Society for the Advancement of Psychotherapy.

  2. McGuire JF, Lewin AB, Storch EA. Enhancing exposure therapy for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorderExpert Rev Neurother. 2014;14(8):893-910. doi:10.1586/14737175.2014.934677

Additional Reading
  • American Psychological Association. How to Choose a Psychologist.

  • American Psychological Association. Licensure & Practice.