Phobias - types of phobias

What is a specific phobia?

Specific phobias are characterised by an extreme and unreasonable fear of a specific object or situation such as dogs, heights, thunder, darkness, flying, escalators, tunnels, closed spaces, urinating or defecating in public toilets, eating certain foods, dentistry, the sight of blood or injury, and the fear of exposure to specific diseases.

Once the phobia starts to interfere with normal daily functioning, then it is problematic. Generally specific phobias can be categorised as follows:

  • Animal type - cued by animals or insects.
  • Natural environment type - cued by objects in the environment, such as storms, heights, or water.
  • Blood-injection-injury type - cued by witnessing some invasive medical procedure.
  • Situational type - cued by a specific situation, such as public transportation, tunnels, bridges or elevators.
  • Flying, driving, or enclosed spaces.
  • Other types - cued by stimuli other than the above, such as of choking, vomiting, or contracting an illness.

What causes specific phobias?

No one knows the precise cause, but they seem to run in families and are slightly more prevalent in women.

Specific phobias usually arise in childhood or early adult life and can persist for decades if they remain untreated. Some children grow out of phobias, while others do not, although there is no medical explanation for this.

People generally develop phobias for objects they cannot predict or control. Danger is more stressful when it takes us by surprise.

How is a specific phobia diagnosed?

One key to diagnosing a phobic disorder is that the fear must be excessive and disproportionate to the situation. Fear alone does not distinguish a phobia; both fear and avoidance must be evident. The phobic situation is avoided whenever possible. Examples include: agoraphobia, animal phobias, claustrophobia and examination phobia.

What is agoraphobia?

An abnormal and persistent fear of public places or open areas, especially those from which escape could be difficult if help was not immediately accessible. Panic disorders frequently accompany agoraphobia. As such, suffers not only avoid certain public places but they also avoid the situations which bring them anxiety or panic.

What causes agoraphobia?

The Freudians speculate that as young children agoraphobics may have feared abandonment by a cold or apparently uncaring mother and the fear has generalised to a fear of abandonment or helplessness.

By contrast, modern learning theory suggests that agoraphobia may develop because people avoid situations they have found painful or

embarrassing. Failed coping strategies and low self-esteem are other causing factors.

Who is most affected from agoraphobia?

The disorder tends to be triggered by a traumatic event, and generally start in the mid to late 20s20’s and affects women twice as often as men.

What are the symptoms of agoraphobia?

People with agoraphobia become anxious if they even think about being trapped in a situation where it might be difficult to leave. People with agoraphobia also characteristically avoid the situations which bring them anxiety or panic. In the most severe cases, victims may be incapacitated and be homebound.

What are social phobias?

Social phobias are excessive fear of embarrassment in social situations that are extremely intrusive and can have a damaging affect on personal and professional relationships. It is a persistent fear of situations where you feel scrutinised, embarrassed and humiliated in public. This interferes with any activity in public, including, public speaking, eating in public, interaction with colleagues and asking for directions. Although sufferers recognise that their fear is excessive and unreasonable, they are unable to overcome it.

What causes social phobias?

Psychologists believe that people with panic disorders may develop social phobias because they are afraid of being incapacitated or embarrassed by a panic attack in a public place. In a sense, they are afraid of their own fear.

What are the symptoms of social phobia?

The symptoms and signs of social phobia include blushing, sweating, trembling, rapid heartbeat, muscle tension and stomach discomfort, light-headedness, and other symptoms of anxiety.

Why should social phobia be treated?

If not treated, social phobia can be extremely disabling to a person's work, social and family relationships. In extreme cases, a person may begin to avoid all social situations and become housebound.

What is the treatment for specific phobias?

Not all specific phobias require treatment. Treatment is not usually required unless the feared object is so common that it is not easily avoided. Agoraphobia and social phobias are the commonest specific phobias requiring treatment because of the level of disruption they cause in the lives of the sufferer and his/her family.

The most effective treatment is behaviour therapy. This is sometimes combined with specific anti-depressant medications. People with social phobia may also benefit from training in social skills.

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