Many people experience some degree of fear or anxiety when faced with particular objects (e.g., spiders) or situations (e.g., heights). The majority of these individuals are able manage their fear effectively and go about their daily lives. For some, however, these fears can become excessive and negatively impact the ability to function in important areas, like socially or at work. This may indicate a Specific Phobia, which is characterized by:
- Marked Fear or Anxiety about the Object or Situation.
Individuals with a Specific Phobia experience fear that is intense or severe when faced with particular objects or situations. These commonly include animals (e.g., insects, dogs), parts of the natural environment (e.g., heights, water), blood or medical procedures (e.g., needles), and particular situations (e.g., flying, elevators, vomiting). The fear or anxiety may also occur in anticipation of encountering the object or situation.
- Immediate Fear of Anxiety.
Individuals with a Specific Phobia will almost always respond with fear or anxiety when faced with the object or situation, and will respond immediately.
Those with a Specific Phobia often actively avoid the feared object or situation or, when avoidance isn't possible, they respond with intense fear or anxiety. Individuals, for instance, may avoid hiking or walking through grassy areas due to the fear of encountering a spider. If they encounter a spider unexpectedly in a basement, they will experience immediate and intense fear. When phobias are severe, individuals may alter their lives considerably in an effort to avoid the object or situation (e.g., moving to a country where spiders are less common). Reminders of the feared objects or situations, such as pictures, may also be avoided.
- Excessive Fear or Anxiety.
For a Specific Phobia to be present, the fear or anxiety must be out of proportion and excessive compared to the actual danger that the object or situation poses. An individual who lives in an area with no harmful or poisonous spiders, for instance, may have a Specific Phobia if they experience extreme fear when faced with small house spider. If the same individual were living in an area where poisonous spiders were common, however, the experience of extreme fear would not necessarily indicate a Specific Phobia.
- Persistence of Fear or Anxiety.
Fears of objects or situations are only considered Specific Phobias if they persist for at least six months. This distinguishes the disorder from more short-lived fears that most people will experience at some point in their lives (especially children).
- Distress or Impairment in Functioning.
For individuals with a Specific Phobia, the fear or anxiety causes them considerable distress or interferes with their ability to function effectively. An individual with a phobia of spiders, for instance, may refuse to go into others' homes, avoid activities they would normally find enjoyable (e.g., hiking), or constantly be on the lookout for spiders. When fear or anxiety related to an object or situation doesn't lead to distress or other problems, it is not considered a Specific Phobia. An individual who fears tarantulas does not have a Specific Phobia, for example, if they live in an area where there are no tarantulas and their fear is never triggered.
If you or someone you know has some or all of these symptoms, it may be due to a Specific Phobia. Psychologists at EBT3 are trained in using psychological assessment tools to find out whether this is the case. They are also experienced at treating Specific Phobias and the related symptoms using approaches that have been proven to be effective, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
For more information about Specific Phobia, or to find an experienced psychologist, please contact us.