Talk Therapy as a Treatment Option for Phobias

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Talk therapy is one of the most common treatment options for phobias, although the specifics will vary according to the client’s needs and the therapist’s school of thought.

What Is Talk Therapy?

Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is based on the core idea that talking about the things that are bothering you can help clarify them and put them in perspective. Some talk therapists follow a specific school of thought, such as cognitive theory or behaviorism. Others use a more eclectic approach, drawing techniques and principles from several different theories.

For specific phobias, a mental health professional (like a psychologist or psychiatrist) may use a combination of cognitive and behavioral strategies that includes exposure to the feared object or situation in their treatment plan. 

Effectiveness of Talk Therapy vs. Medication Therapy

There is an age-old debate in the mental health community regarding the usefulness of talk therapy as opposed to medication therapy. According to the medical model, mental disorders are the result of physiological causes and should be treated by medication, surgery, or other medical processes.

Proponents of talk therapy believe that mental disorders are largely based on reactions to one’s environment. Therefore, they can be treated through discussion, resolution of conflict, behavioral changes, and changes in thinking.

Today, most members of the mental health community feel that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some conditions may be caused by physiological changes, while others are the result of conflict and unhealthy reactions. Most issues are based on a combination of factors.

Many therapists consider both medical and talk therapy solutions when devising a treatment plan.

Goals of Therapy

The ultimate goal of any type of therapy is to help the client deal more successfully with a disorder or a situation. The specific treatment goals depend on the individual client, the therapist’s theories, and the situation at hand. The goal may be concrete, such as quitting smoking, or more abstract, such as anger management.

When talk therapy is used for phobia treatment, there are generally two goals. One is to help the client overcome the fear. The second goal is to help the client learn to manage any remaining fear so that they can live a functional life.

Some forms of talk therapy have a third goal. In psychoanalysis and related therapies, the goal is to discover and resolve the underlying conflict that caused the phobia or other disorder. In interpersonal therapies, the goal is to resolve problems in interpersonal relationships that have resulted from or contributed to the phobia or other disorder.

Progression of Talk Therapy

Talk therapy begins with an initial appointment, often referred to as an intake interview. During this appointment, you'll describe what brings you to therapy. This is known as the presenting problem.

The therapist will then ask questions to help clarify the nature of the problem, and its duration and severity. They will also try to determine your goals for therapy. By the end of the first session, the therapist will have the beginnings of a treatment plan, although many therapists will wait until the second session to provide a more formalized plan. Some therapists choose to maintain the treatment plan as a reference document for themselves but do not present it to the client unless requested.

Despite the treatment plan, you should always remain in control of the progression of their therapy.

The issue may require more or fewer sessions than originally planned. Family members or friends may be invited to join in certain sessions. Auxiliary resources, such as support groups, may be recommended.

Group Talk Therapy

Although talk therapy is most commonly performed one on one, group talk therapy can also be effective. In traditional group therapy, the existence of the group plays a key role. A therapeutic milieu is an environment is created within the group that provides structure, support, and a feeling of safety. Within a safe and trusting environment, group members often can express feelings, confront their own negative personality traits, and experiment with behavioral changes.

Of course, it takes time and effort to build a sense of community. The popularity of brief therapy has led to a different style of group therapy—the seminar. Time-limited to a single evening or perhaps a weekend, seminars could be seen as group-style individual therapy. These short group sessions use individual cognitive-behavioral therapy methods that are presented to several people at once. The group setting is largely irrelevant, beyond the confidence that may develop from seeing others successfully battle their own issues.

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