Saturday, October 31, 2009
A phobia is a strong, persistent fear of situations, objects, activities, or persons.
The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive and unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. When the fear is beyond one's control, and if the fear is interfering with daily life, then a diagnosis under one of the anxiety disorders can be made.
Phobias 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. 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.
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.
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.
Various methods are claimed to treat phobias. 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. In one clinical trial, 90% of patients were observed with no longer having a phobic reaction after successful CBT treatment.