At the Anxiety & Stress Center, we employ a variety of research-based methods in the treatment of phobias. These include, but are not limited to, exposure and response prevention, cognitive restructuring, imaginal exposure, and mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy. These methods fall within the umbrella of cognitive-behavioral therapy and involve developing skills to manage anxiety responses to feared situations. The therapists at the Anxiety & Stress Center are trained in a number of effective therapies and will collaborate with you to tailor a treatment program to meet your needs.
The specific objects or situations feared by individuals with phobias vary widely from person to person. Some examples of common phobias include fears of:
- spiders (arachnophobia)
- snakes (ophidiophobia)
- heights (acrophobia)
- dogs (cynophobia)
- rats / mice (musophobia)
- needles / injections (trypanophobia)
- thunder / lightning (brontophobia)
- enclosed spaces (claustrophobia)
- vomiting (emetophobia)
- water (hydrophobia)
- dental procedures (dentophobia)
- insects (entomophobia / insectophobia)
- having bad breath (halitophobia)
- darkness (nyctophobia)
- bridges (gephyrophobia)
- blood (hemophobia)
Treatment of Phobias
Because of these many similarities, the same techniques that are so effective in treating OCD are also employed in the treatment of phobias. The primary CBT technique used in treating phobias is a variant of the Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) technique used in the treatment of OCD. Another CBT technique that is extremely valuable is called “Cognitive Restructuring”, in which clients learn to challenge the validity of their phobic thoughts.
Additionally, a variant of ERP has been developed that has also been found to be helpful for the treatment of phobias. This method sometimes called “imaginal exposure,” involves using short stories based on the client’s phobia. These stories are audiotaped and then used as ERP tools, allowing the client to experience exposure to feared situations that cannot be experienced through traditional ERP (e.g., being attacked by birds, being struck by lightning, drowning). When combined with standard ERP and other CBT techniques such as Cognitive Restructuring, this type of imaginal exposure can greatly reduce the frequency and magnitude of intrusive phobic obsessions, as well as the individual’s sensitivity to the specific object or situation they fear.
One of the most effective CBT developments for the treatment of phobias is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. The primary goal of Mindfulness-Based CBT is to learn to non-judgmentally accept uncomfortable psychological experiences. From a mindfulness perspective, much of our psychological distress is the result of trying to control and eliminate the discomfort of unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. In other words, our discomfort is not the problem – our attempt to control and eliminate our discomfort is the problem. For an individual with a phobia, the ultimate goal of mindfulness is to develop the ability to more willingly experience their uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges, without responding with avoidance behaviors, reassurance seeking, and/or mental rituals.