A phobia is an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. Phobias are more extreme than fears. They develop when a person has an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object.
Individuals who experience phobias may organise their life around avoiding the situation that is causing the anxiety. They do not tent to have a single cause. Instead there may be multiple factors that are associated with the disorder such as a particular incident or trauma, a learned response developed from early life and genetics.
Individuals who suffer from phobias may experience symptoms such as unsteadiness, dizziness and light-headedness, nausea, sweating, increased heart rate or palpitations, shortness of breath, trembling, shaking and upset stomach.
During the assessment stage the therapist and client will distinguish what the problem is and the extent of it. This is then generally followed by repeated exposure to the feared stimulus. This involves learning to manage the anxiety and fear until it passes. Before carrying out the exposure it is important for the client and therapist to build a hierarchy or ladder of the exposure. This helps the individual to manage the fear by building on their confidence and coping skills. When reaching the end of the hierarchy/ladder the individual should be at the stage where they are able to manage the fear.
Breathing and relaxation exercises are also used to decrease the feelings of anxiety, which are present when people experience phobias. The therapist will also teach the client to challenge their negative thoughts by decreasing fortune telling, overgeneralisations and catastrophizing.