A Support Person Is Necessary for Treating Phobias

Friends and family can be key players on your phobia treatment team

women being supportive
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There's no need to face your phobia alone; a support person can help you better manage your condition and get the help you need. After all, combating a phobia, which the American Psychiatric Association defines as an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation, can be exhausting and time-consuming! 

So what exactly is a support person? Although the term can refer to your therapist or other members of your treatment team, it's most often used to describe a close friend or relative who plays the roles of advocate, confidant, and cheerleader. Friends and family members can form the first line of support for someone suffering from a phobia.

The amount of support required depends on the nature and severity of your phobia; your personal resources; and the frequency with which you encounter your phobic situation. Some people have a single support person, but it's usually best to have one primary and several secondary support people, especially if the feared situation is one that is frequently encountered. Having a few people to turn to can ensure that you always have help and that your support people stay fresh and energetic.

It's important to open up to your support person or support people about your phobia, triggers, and methods of coping. A deep level of trust must be present on both sides. Depending on your situation, your support person might:

  • Accompany you to therapist appointments.
  • Go with you to events that trigger your phobia.
  • Preview situations to see if you'll be able to handle them.
  • Just lend an ear or offer a hug when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Types of Social Support

There are many ways that people can support one another and different people have preferences for a certain type or a combination or a few types of social support.

The wrong type of support can actually have a detrimental effect so it's important to specify which type of support you find most helpful.

Here are four distinct types of social support that may work for you.

  • Emotional support: This typically involves physical comfort and empathy. With emotional support, a friend or spouse might give you a big hug and listen to your problems, letting you know that they’ve felt the same way, too.
  • Esteem support: Expressions of confidence or encouragement are often found in this type of support. For instance, someone offering esteem support might point out your strengths or simply let you know that they believe in you. 
  • Informational support: Those offering informational support do so in the form of advice-giving, or in gathering and sharing information.
  • Tangible support: Tangible support includes taking an active stance to help someone manage a problem they’re experiencing. Someone who offers you tangible support may bring you dinner when you’re sick, help you brainstorm solutions or help you actively deal with the issue at hand.

By Lisa Fritscher
Lisa Fritscher is a freelance writer and editor with a deep interest in phobias and other mental health topics.