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For other uses, see phobia (disambiguation)

A phobia (from the Greek: φόβος, phóbos, fear or morbid fear), is an irrational, intense, persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, or people. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. When the fear is beyond one's control, or if the fear is interfering with daily life, then a diagnosis under one of the anxiety disorders can be made.[1]

Phobias (in the clinical meaning of the term) are the most common form of anxiety disorders. An American study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that between 8.7% and 18.1% of Americans suffer from phobias.[2] Broken down by age and gender, the study found that phobias were the most common mental illness among women in all age groups and the second most common illness among men older than 25.

Contents

Causes

It is generally accepted that phobias arise from a combination of external events and internal predispositions. In a famous experiment, Martin Seligman used classical conditioning to establish phobias of snakes and flowers. The results of the experiment showed that it took far fewer shocks to create an adverse response to a picture of a snake than to a picture of a flower, leading to the conclusion that certain objects may have a genetic predisposition to being associated with fear.[3] Many specific phobias can be traced back to a specific triggering event, usually a traumatic experience at an early age. Social phobias and agoraphobia have more complex causes that are not entirely known at this time. It is believed that heredity, genetics, and brain chemistry combined with life-experiences play a major role in the development of anxiety disorders, phobias and panic attacks.

The anatomical side of phobias

Phobias are more often than not linked to the amygdala, an area of the brain located behind the pituitary gland in the limbic system. The amygdala secretes hormones that control fear and aggression. When the fear or aggression response is initiated, the amygdala releases hormones into the body to put the human body into an "alert" state, in which they are ready to move, run, fight, etc.[4] This defensive "alert" state and response is generally referred to in psychology as the fight-or-flight response.

Clinical phobias

Most psychologists and psychiatrists classify most phobias into three categories:[5][6]

  • Social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder - fears involving other people or social situations such as performance anxiety or fears of embarrassment by scrutiny of others, such as eating in public. Social phobia may be further subdivided into
    • generalized social phobia, and
    • specific social phobia, which are cases of anxiety triggered only in specific situations.[7] The symptoms may extend to psychosomatic manifestation of physical problems. For example, sufferers of paruresis find it difficult or impossible to urinate in reduced levels of privacy. This goes far beyond mere preference: when the condition triggers, the person physically cannot empty their bladder.
  • Specific phobias - fear of a single specific panic trigger such as spiders, snakes, dogs, elevators, water, waves, flying, balloons, catching a specific illness, etc.
  • Agoraphobia - a generalized fear of leaving home or a small familiar 'safe' area, and of possible panic attacks that might follow.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), social phobia, specific phobia, and agoraphobia are sub-groups of anxiety disorder.

Many of the specific phobias, such as fear of dogs, heights, spiders and so forth, are extensions of fears that a lot of people have. People with these phobias specifically avoid the entity they fear.

Phobias vary in severity among individuals. Some individuals can simply avoid the subject of their fear and suffer only relatively mild anxiety over that fear. Others suffer fully-fledged panic attacks with all the associated disabling symptoms. Most individuals understand that they are suffering from an irrational fear, but are powerless to override their initial panic reaction.

Treatments

Various methods are claimed to treat phobias. None are scientifically proven to be effective, and their proposed benefits may vary from person to person.

Some therapists use virtual reality or imagery exercise to desensitize patients to the feared entity. These are parts of systematic desensitization therapy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be beneficial. Cognitive behavioral therapy lets the patient understand the cycle of negative thought patterns, and ways to change these thought patterns. CBT may be conducted in a group setting. Gradual desensitisation treatment and CBT are often successful, provided the patient is willing to endure some discomfort and to make a continuous effort over a long period of time.[8]

Hypnotherapy coupled with Neuro-linguistic programming can also be used to help remove the associations that trigger a phobic reaction. Considered a pseudoscience by many.

Antidepressant medications such SSRIs, MAOIs may be helpful in some cases of phobia. Benzodiazepines may be useful in acute treatment of severe symptoms but the risk benefit ratio is against their long-term use in phobic disorders.[9]

Emotional Freedom Technique, a psychotherapeutic alternative medicine tool, also considered to be pseudoscience by the mainstream medicine, is allegedly useful.

These treatment options are not mutually exclusive. Often a therapist will suggest multiple treatments.

Non-psychological conditions

The word "phobia" may also signify conditions other than fear. For example, although the term hydrophobia means a fear of water, it may also mean inability to drink water due to an illness, or may be used to describe a chemical compound which repels water. Likewise, the term photophobia may be used to define a physical complaint (i.e. aversion to light due to inflamed eyes or excessively dilated pupils) and does not necessarily indicate a fear of light.

Non-clinical uses of the term

It is possible for an individual to develop a phobia over virtually anything. The name of a phobia generally contains a Greek word for what the patient fears plus the suffix -phobia. Creating these terms is something of a word game. Few of these terms are found in medical literature. However, this does not necessarily make it a non-psychological condition.

Terms indicating prejudice or class discrimination

A number of terms with the suffix -phobia are primarily understood as negative attitudes towards certain categories of people or other things, used in an analogy with the medical usage of the term. Usually these kinds of "phobias" are described as fear, dislike, disapproval, prejudice, hatred, discrimination, or hostility towards the object of the "phobia". Often this attitude is based on prejudices and is a particular case of general xenophobia.

Class discrimination is not always considered a phobia in the clinical sense because it is believed to be only a symptom of other psychological issues, or the result of ignorance, or of political or social beliefs. In other words, unlike clinical phobias, which are usually qualified with disabling fear, class discrimination usually has roots in social relations. Below are some examples:

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Edmund J. Bourne, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, 4th ed, New Harbinger Publications, 2005, ISBN 1-57224-413-5.
  2. ^ Kessler et al., Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, June 2005, Archive of General Psychiatry, Volume 20
  3. ^ Phobias: Causes and Treatment, AllPsych Journal
  4. ^ Winerman, Lea. "Figuring Out Phobia", American Psychology Association: Monitor on Psychology, August 2007.
  5. ^ AllPsych Journal | Phobias: Causes and Treatments
  6. ^ NIMH - The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America
  7. ^ Crozier, W. Ray; Alden, Lynn E. International Handbook of Social Anxiety: Concepts, Research, and Interventions Relating to the Self and Shyness, p. 12. New York John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. (UK), 2001. ISBN 0-471-49129-2.
  8. ^ Hall, Lynne L. Fighting Phobias, the Things That Go Bump in the Mind, FDA Consumer Magazine, Volume 31 No. 2, March 1997.
  9. ^ Stein, Dan J (16 February 2004). Clinical Manual of Anxiety Disorders (1st ed.). USA: American Psychiatric Press Inc. p. 53. ISBN 978-1585620760. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=44reFIgFDBMC. 

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Contents

English

Etymology

From Ancient Greek φόβος (phobos), fear).

Pronunciation

Noun

Singular
phobia

Plural
phobias

phobia (plural phobias)

  1. An irrational or obsessive fear or anxiety, usually of or about something particular.

Translations

Related terms

See also


Simple English

A phobia is a strong fear of something. Such fears can be very common. Those who suffer, usually very strongly want to avoid (keep away from) what they fear. People with arachnophobia, for example, are scared of spiders, and want to keep away from the places where they might find spiders.

A Phobia is different from normal fear in many ways:

  1. The fear(Phobia) is much too strong, given the situation
  2. The fear lasts much longer than necessary
  3. Those suffering from the phobia cannot explain why they suffer from it. They also cannot influence the fear; this makes coping with the fear difficult for them.
  4. Phobias have a direct influence on the life of the sufferers
  5. Those suffering from sociophobia will be much more reluctant to contact new people

It is hard to tell how many people suffer from phobias; numbers indicate though that between 5 and 13 percent seem to have a phobia. Women suffer from phobias about twice as often.

There are different ways to help people with phobias. There is treatment available; it focuses on making the patient less sensitive to the fear they suffer from, or showing him or her how the cycle of fear works. There is also medication available (mostly sedatives) that help people cope. Finally there are self-help groups. It is said to originate from a Greek god FOBO.








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