The Goals of Phobia Treatment

If you have begun treatment or considering treatment for a phobia, you may be wondering how to determine the goals of your treatment. What do you hope will be accomplished by addressing your phobia? What changes in your life are you hoping will take place?

The goals of therapy for phobia are to reduce or eliminate the symptoms so you can perform daily activities, including making and managing money, taking care of your household, and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships.

Types of Phobia

The type of treatment you receive depends on the type of phobia you have and the severity of your symptoms. There are three types of phobia:

  1. Agoraphobia involves a fear of situations in which you can't escape (such as leaving home, being alone at home, or being in a particular place such as a car or bus) and resultant avoidance behavior to prevent exposure to those fearful situations.
  2. Social phobia, now called social anxiety disorder or SAD, is a very common disorder involving anxiety which is out of proportion related to social situations. Unlike normal nervousness, those with social anxiety disorder find their anxiety interferes with their relationships with others and may affect their career as well.
  3. Specific phobia is well known to most people and involves an irrational fear of an object or situation. There is a multitude of different phobias such as claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) and often several different phobias occur together.

While treatments for each type of phobia differ, the goals of treatment are to help you learn to manage your anxiety responses and function well in your daily life.

How Common Are Phobias?

  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 9.1% of adults in the U.S. had a specific phobia in the past year.
  • Approximately 0.9% of adults experienced agoraphobia in the past year and around 1.3% will have this condition at some point in their lives. 
  • An estimated 7.1% of adults experienced social phobia (social anxiety disorder) in the past year.

The severity of the phobia and the impact it has on life vary tremendously. What is common, however, is that a phobia often limits people's life or prevents them from enjoying their life to the greatest degree possible.

Phobia Treatment Goals

A good mental health professional will customize a treatment plan for you, which may include both talk therapy and medication. A physician is more likely to add medication to agoraphobia or social phobia treatment plan than for a specific phobia.

Specific Phobia Treatment Goals

Your treatment goals for specific phobia are likely to be met through the cognitive behavior therapy method known as exposure therapy. During this desensitization process, the therapist will gradually expose you to stimuli related to your fear in a safe and controlled environment.

Before the exposure process begins, people first learn relaxation techniques that they can use to remain calm when faced with the source of their fears. These techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization. The next step is to practice using these relaxation strategies gradually and progressively in the face of the feared object or situation. 

You'll know you've reached your therapy goal when the distorted thinking that fuels your phobia diminishes to a functional level or disappears.

Agoraphobia Treatment Goals

Research suggests that combining cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with medication is an effective treatment for agoraphobia. Medications work to address symptoms of anxiety in the short-term, while CBT helps change the thoughts and feelings that contribute to panic and anxiety symptoms.

The goals of agoraphobia treatment are to learn:

  • Your fears are not likely to come true
  • Your anxiety will gradually decrease in public and that you're capable of managing your symptoms until they do
  • The factors that trigger your panic attacks, or panic-like symptoms, or make them worse
  • Techniques to deal with your symptoms
  • How to change unwanted and unhealthy behaviors through self-guided desensitization techniques

Social Phobia Treatment Goals

Your treatment plan for social phobia is likely to include a combination of talk therapy, medication, and role-playing.

The goals of treatment for social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, including helping you to:

  • Change the negative thoughts you have about yourself
  • Develop confidence in social situations, especially the ones you fear most
  • Improve your coping skills

A medication commonly prescribed to help you reach your therapeutic objectives include:

A Word From Verywell 

The goals of therapy are essential to help you live your life fully without irrational thoughts and fears which interfere with your activities. You may begin with primary goals and advance to other goals as you reach your initial goals. Every person is different so it is hard to estimate how long it will take any one person to reach their personal goals of treatment, but research tells us that these goals are often attainable—even when it feels as if you could never face some of the situations that you now fear.​

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Specific phobia. Updated November 2017.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Agoraphobia: management and treatment. Updated May 8, 2015.

Additional Reading