In this bog I would like to offer some thoughts on phobias; a definition, types and what can be done about them.
So firstly, a definition – Phobias an irrational fear that a person develops as a response to specific objects, animals or situations.
It is important to notice that the term ‘irrational’ is included as this can be controversial – for example if Tommy was bitten by a dog then it might seem rational that he develops a strong fear of dogs, but actually the situation in which the dog bit him may be significant (perhaps that dog was being teased, chased or hurt by someone else just prior to Tommy playing with the dog). Equally, Tommy might have a phobia about dogs, but actually the lovely gentle Labrador that wants to say hello is no actual threat. The fear has become irrational and no sense of logic or thinking about it seems to help Tommy approach a dog.
Phobias can relate to objects (for example bananas), animals (cats, spiders), or situations (enclosed spaces, heights, injections).
Phobias can also be more complicated, such as when a person becomes fearful of social contexts like being in public places or being outside.
Understanding phobias draws on the same understanding that I used to explain anxiety in my previous blog; the brain becomes ‘stuck’ in Fight, Flight, Freeze, Flop mode and matches the original memory to a new pattern that shares similar characteristics. The ‘old’ memory triggers the ‘old’ emotion and the brain learns to match the ‘old’ feeling to new patterns.
In simpler terms, a person learns to be afraid of something that represents the original traumatic situation (even if they can’t see a connection).
So here’s the good news: if you can learn to be afraid of something then you can learn to have an appropriate amount of fear for something too (notice I didn’t say you can get rid of the fear). We just need to retrain the brain. Through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy we can achieve this using careful ‘systematic desensitisation’ – a process of carefully and gradually experiencing the phobic situation – through visualisation, through images and language, and through in-vivo (actual) experience. Alternatively we could use the Rewind Technique that helps to rapidly ‘unhook’ the ‘old’ feelings from the ‘old’ memory so that new and more appropriate feelings can be developed for the phobic situation. Both methods can work, and it is important to find the most appropriate method that will work best for you.
Please do get in touch if you would like to find out more.