Role of Behavioral Therapy in Treating Phobias

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Phobias don't require treatment unless the fear is preventing you from working, performing necessary daily tasks or having healthy interpersonal relationships. For example, if you live in the U.S. and have a fear of tigers, you could avoid the zoo instead of spending time and money on phobia treatment.

Most forms of this type of anxiety disorder are curable. However, no single method of treatment works for all phobias. If you do seek treatment, the exact methods the therapist uses to help you may vary. Here is a look at some common types of therapy to treat phobias.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Phobias

A phobia sufferer believes that the feared situation is inherently dangerous. This belief leads to negative automatic thoughts that occur as soon as the feared situation is encountered and the automatic thoughts lead to a phobic behavioral reaction.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, enables you to manage your fears by helping you gradually change the way you think. It's based on the interconnectedness of thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.

It may take several CBT sessions to counteract this thought pattern. In order to accomplish this, the therapist can help you overcome your fear with incremental steps. A sample treatment plan for a fear of dogs might include first reading about dogs, then watching a dog movie, and finally taking you to play with a harmless puppy.

Techniques commonly used in cognitive behavioral therapy draw from the schools of behaviorism and learning theory as well as the school of cognitive theory.

Group Therapy to Help Ease Fears

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a common type of group therapy for phobias, although many forms of therapy use this method.

You may see advertisements for group CBT sessions for phobias, which may call the therapy session a seminar. The duration may be one hour or several days. A group of people with a fear of flying, for example, may assemble at an airport hotel for the weekend, where they might engage in a combination of psychoeducational classes and exposure sessions inside the airport.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy allows the therapist and client to focus on each other, building a rapport and working together to solve the client's issue. However, psychoanalysis and related therapies may progress for months or even years, while brief therapies such as CBT can produce results in just a few sessions.

Family Therapy 

If the therapist feels that your family situation may be contributing to the development or progression of the phobia, then she may suggest family therapy as part of a treatment plan.

A particularly common application of family therapy places the therapist in the role of facilitating one or more communication sessions between the family members. Family therapy is a common part of treatment plans for children with phobias.

Medications for Phobias

A good therapist will design a unique treatment plan to meet your needs. He might prescribe medication (which is more common for social phobia than for a fear of a specific object or situation). These medicines could include:

  • Beta-blockers to block the effects of adrenaline
  • Antidepressants, or SSRIs, to act on the serotonin in your brain
  • Sedatives to relax and reduce anxiety
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Article Sources
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  1. NHS UK. Phobias.Updated October 26, 2018.

  2. Fenn, K., & Byrne, M. The key principles of cognitive behavioural therapyInnovait: Education And Inspiration For General Practice. 2013;6(9), 579-585. doi:10.1177/1755738012471029

Additional Reading
  • Hobbis, et al. Journal of Health Psychology: Are Techniques Used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Applicable to Behavior Change Interventions Based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour? (2005).