Phobias are the most common form of psychological disorders. They can be defined as irrational fears about objects or situations. People tend to see their phobias as unreasonable, but feel incapable of giving up the fear, or confronting the situation in a calm fashion. Reasoning with the person as to the foolishness of the fear has no effect.
Phobias can be categorized into three types:
- Simple, or situational phobias. These are fears of animals and insects, fears of injuries or injections, or fears of specific situations such as heights, tunnels, flying, or thunderstorms.
- Social phobias. These are fears of being judged by people, or being seen as foolish. It results in the individual avoiding many social situations which the person believes he or she should otherwise attend.
- Agoraphobia. This is a somewhat more complicated phobia where the person believes that one will have a panic attack in certain situations that are difficult to escape from, such as open spaces, or tunnels. The individual is more focused on the danger of having a panic attack, rather than believing the situation is dangerous.
Phobias can result in an inability to live a profitable or normal existence. For instance, a fear of elevators may prevent a person from taking a particular job, because the company is on a high floor. A fear of injections may prevent a person from getting adequate medical attention. A fear of public speaking could stop a person from advancing in one’s career. Fear of having a panic attack on the street can prevent a person from leaving home.
Specific behavioral techniques have been developed for eliminating phobias. The most widely used treatment is Exposure and Response Prevention. This involves a careful, systematic exposure to the fearful situation, with the patient learning to relax and act in a non-defensive way around the phobic event. The patient is guided through a series of situations, learning how to master one’s fears in easy situations before being exposed to more fearful ones. The patient sets the speed that the therapy advances, so that the patient never gets too frightened or out of control.
For instance, if a person wished to get rid of a fear of heights, he or she would learn progressive relaxation exercises, and good breathing techniques as a first step to overcoming the fear. Then the person is taught how to use these skills while being exposed to a mildly anxiety-provoking situation, such as the second floor of a building. Only when the anxiety has come down to a very low level would the person be encouraged to go to a higher floor. By this gradual exposure method, most patients can overcome their fears in relatively few sessions.
Phobics who use this method of treatment show a high rate of success, with patients with most phobias typically taking about 8 to 16 sessions to bring the phobia under control. Using behavioral methods, patients rarely relapse, and often go on to use these techniques to face their fears in other areas of their lives.
At Behavioral Associates we often combine virtual reality therapy with biofeedback in helping patients overcome phobias, a powerful combination with a higher than 90 percent cure rate. This treatment method teaches patients relaxation strategies that are practiced when confronting their fears in a virtual world before using them in the real world. At your initial consultation you will be matched with a therapist and a treatment plan will be devised to help you learn to effectively manage your phobia.
If virtual reality therapy is the right therapy for you, we will match you with a therapist at Behavioral Associates who has been specifically trained in this technique. Behavioral Associates is one of the few practitioners in the area offering virtual reality therapy for the treatment of fear of flying, the gold standard in anxiety and phobia management.
Contact us or call our office at (212) 860-8500 to schedule your initial consultation.