Fear is a natural response, but what happens when fear becomes overwhelming and restricts your daily life? When an unrealistic and exaggerated perception of a threat causes extreme distress, it’s known as a phobia. Phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder, ranging from mild to severe, and can lead to anxiety, avoidance, and disruptions in daily life.
Identifying a phobia
Most people with phobias are aware of their fears and may go to great lengths to avoid anxiety-inducing situations. However, continuous avoidance can be overwhelming and significantly impact daily life. Some phobias only manifest when in contact with the source, while others, like agoraphobia, can be more complex, affecting everyday functioning. Anticipatory anxiety, where thinking about the source of the phobia triggers anxiousness, can also be a challenge. Symptoms of phobias, according to the DSM-5, include:
- Irrational fear lasting at least six months.
- Excessive fear disrupts daily life and social relationships.
- Escape and avoidance behaviours related to the source of fear
- Anxiety responses such as crying, panic attacks, and clinging.
- Somatic symptoms like sweating, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, choking, and chest pain
Specific vs. complex phobias
Specific or simple phobias involve fears of specific objects, animals, situations, or activities. These often develop in childhood and tend to lessen with age. Examples include animal phobias, situational phobias (like flying or visiting the dentist), environmental phobias (heights or germs), bodily phobias (blood or injections), and sexual phobias.
Complex phobias, on the other hand, are more disabling and typically develop in adulthood. They include agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder (SAD). Agoraphobia involves anxiety about being in situations where escape may be difficult, leading to avoidance of places like crowded areas. SAD is characterised by anxiety in social situations with a fear of negative evaluation or humiliation, often resulting in avoidance.
Treating Phobias with EMDR Therapy
The good news is that most phobias can be successfully treated. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an effective approach, offering quicker results compared to traditional Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). EMDR is based on the Human Adaptive Information Processing (AIP) model, which explains how trauma interferes with information processing.
Phobias occur when the emotional brain overrides the logical prefrontal cortex, leading to fear and anxiety. EMDR therapy helps reconnect the emotional brain (limbic system) with the logical brain (prefrontal cortex), reducing fear responses.
Clinical trials and research support
Research supports EMDR as an effective treatment for specific phobias, showing significant improvements even in a limited number of sessions. It is especially helpful for phobias with high anxiety levels and clear traumatic origins, where exposure therapy may be challenging.
EMDR in action
Consider two scenarios:
Animal Phobia: In this case, the client experiences severe panic attacks when confronted with pictures or real-life dead animals. EMDR therapy begins with psychoeducation, teaching the client about fear responses. Breathing and relaxation techniques are introduced to manage stress. Clients are encouraged to bring comforting items, like a pet, to sessions. EMDR helps process and diminish fear, replacing negative perceptions with positive ones.
Fear of Flying: The client developed a phobia of flying after a turbulent flight. EMDR focuses on the traumatic flight experience, addressing emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations associated with it. The traumatic event is processed, reducing associated negative emotions and replacing them with positive beliefs. EMDR has shown promise in treating in-flight phobias.
In both cases, negative emotions are reduced, allowing clients to face their phobias without fear.
Take control of your life.
If you or someone you know is living with a phobia, consider EMDR therapy as a path towards a phobia-free life. Don’t let fear hold you back. Reach out to a qualified EMDR therapist today and take the first step towards conquering your phobia.
Ready to defeat your phobia? Contact Light Mind today!
At Light Mind, we specialise in EMDR therapy to help you overcome your phobias and regain control of your life. Don’t let fear limit your potential. Contact us today to schedule your first session and embark on a journey to a phobia-free life.Book an appointment