A phobia is, when used in the context of clinical psychology, a type of anxiety disorder, usually defined as a persistent fear of an object or situation in which the sufferer commits to great lengths in avoiding, typically disproportional to the actual danger posed, often being recognized as irrational. In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer will endure the situation or object with marked distress and significant interference in social or occupational activities. Most phobias are classified into three categories and, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, such phobias are considered to be sub-types of anxiety disorder. The three categories are:

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1. Social phobia: fear of other people or social situations such as performance anxiety or fears of embarrassment by scrutiny of others. Overcoming social phobia is often very difficult without the help of therapy or support groups.

2. Specific phobias: fear of a single specific panic trigger such as spiders, snakes, dogs, water, heights, flying, catching a specific illness, etc. Many people have these fears but to a lesser degree than those who suffer from specific phobias. People with the phobias specifically avoid the entity they fear.

3. Agoraphobia: a generalized fear of leaving home or a small familiar ‘safe’ area, and of possible panic attacks that might follow. It may also be caused by various specific phobias such as fear of open spaces, social embarrassment (social agoraphobia), fear of contamination (fear of germs, possibly complicated by obsessive-compulsive disorder) or PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) related to a trauma that occurred out of doors. Phobias vary in severity among individuals. Some individuals can simply avoid the subject of their fear and suffer relatively mild anxiety over that fear. Others suffer full-fledged panic attacks with all the associated disabling symptoms. Most individuals understand that they are suffering from an irrational fear, but are powerless to override their panic reaction.

Specific phobias
A specific phobia is a marked and persistent fear of an object or situation which brings about an excessive or unreasonable fear when in the

Page 2 Phobias and Specific Activating Events Essay

presence of, or anticipating, a specific object; the specific phobias may also include concerns with losing control, panicking, and fainting which is the direct result of an encounter with the phobia. Specific phobias are defined in relation to objects or situations whereas social phobias emphasize social fear and the evaluations that might accompany them.


Aquaphobia is a persistent and abnormal fear of water. Aquaphobia is a specific phobia that involves a level of fear that is beyond the patient’s control or that may interfere with daily life. People suffer aquaphobia in many ways and may experience it even though they realize the water in an ocean, a river, or even a bathtub poses no imminent threat. They may avoid such activities as boating and swimming, or they may avoid swimming in the deep ocean despite having mastered basic swimming skills.

This anxiety commonly extends to getting wet or splashed with water when it is unexpected, or being pushed or thrown into a body of water. Psychologists indicate that aquaphobia manifests itself in people through a combination of experiential and genetic factors. A group of swimming coaches in Singapore have been studying its children to understand aquaphobia.

They found a fear of submersing the head to be common among aquaphobic children, including those who have little fear of proximity to water. More precisely, they found that submersion of the nose and the ears are the most feared. Famous Hollywood actress Natalie Wood suffered from aquaphobia — specifically, being in water. Although it is unknown how this phobia started, it is rumoured to have begun when Natalie’s mother tricked her into standing on a bridge for a movie. The bridge had been rigged for Natalie to fall into the water below. This is said to have taken place when Natalie was young, so the fear stuck with her for life. Ironically, she died from drowning one night after falling off of a yacht. Astraphobia

Astraphobia, also known as astrapophobia, brontophobia, keraunophobia, or tonitrophobia, is an abnormal fear of thunder and lightning, a type of specific phobia. It is a treatable phobia that both humans and animals can develop. A person with astraphobia will often feel anxious during a thunderstorm even when they understand that the threat to them is minimal. Some symptoms are those accompanied with many phobias, such as trembling, crying, sweating, panic attacks, the sudden feeling of using the restroom, nausea, the feeling of dread, and rapid heartbeat. However, there are some reactions that are unique to astraphobia.

For instance, reassurance from other people is usually sought, and symptoms worsen when alone. Many people who have astraphobia will look for extra shelter from the storm. They might hide underneath a bed, under the covers, in a closet, in a basement, or any other space where they feel safer. Efforts are usually made to smother the sound of the thunder; the person may cover their ears or curtain the windows. A sign that someone has astraphobia is a very heightened interest in weather forecasts. An astraphobic person will be alert for news of incoming storms. They may watch the weather on television constantly during rainy bouts and may even track thunderstorms online.

This can become severe enough that the person may not go outside without checking the weather first. In very extreme cases, astraphobia can lead to agoraphobia, the fear of leaving the home. A 2007 study found astraphobia the third most prevalent phobia in the US. It can occur in people of any age. It occurs in many children, and should not be immediately identified as a phobia because children naturally go through many fears as they mature.

Their fear of thunder and lightning cannot be considered a fully developed phobia unless it persists for more than six months. In this case, the child’s phobia should be addressed, for it may become a serious problem in adulthood. To lessen a child’s fear during thunderstorms, the child can be distracted by games and activities. A bolder approach is to treat the storm as an entertainment; a fearless adult is an excellent role model for children. Superstar musician and actress Madonna suffers from this phobia. she’d never be caught stepping out when it is raining and thundering.

The most widely used and possibly the most effective treatment for astraphobia is exposure to thunderstorms and eventually building an immunity. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also often used to treat astraphobia. The patient will in many cases be instructed to repeat phrases to himself or herself in order to become calm during a storm. Heavy breathing exercises can reinforce this effort. Ailurophobia

Ailurophobia is a type of specific phobia: the persistent, irrational fear of cats.Synonyms include felinophobia, elurophobia, and cat phobia. The phobia manifests itself in different ways. Some sufferers experience it almost all the time, others just in response to direct stimuli. Some possible situations that can trigger the fear of cats are: hearing purring, seeing a cat in real life, imagining the possibility of a cat attack, the thought of meeting a cat in the dark, cats in pictures and on television, and cat-like toys and cat-like fur. The great Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, and great military and political leader, feared felines. Don’t wait for a punch line, because there isn’t one. Cats chilled Napoleon to the bone.

However, it is unknown why he feared them. But what is known is that the sight of a kitty would put him in panic mode. And it isn’t just Napoleon! Many other men who tried to rule the world feared cats, including Hitler, Mussolini and Julius Caesar. There are many ways to treat ailurophobia; treatment is usually carried out by a psychiatrist or other therapy specialist. One strongly motivated patient was able to recover by slowly becoming accustomed to cat fur by first touching varying types of velvet, then becoming accustomed to a toy kitten, and finally a live kitten which the patient subsequently adopted. Necrophobia

Necrophobia is a specific phobia which is the irrational fear of dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins, tombstones). Necrophobia is derived from Greek nekros for “corpse” and -phob- from the Greek phobos for “fear.” With all types of emotions, obsession with death becomes evident in both fascination and objectification. In a cultural sense, necrophobia may also be used to mean a fear of the dead by a cultural group, e.g., a belief that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt the living. Symptoms include: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth and shaking, feeling sick and uneasy, psychological instability, and an altogether feeling of dread and trepidation.

The sufferer may feel this phobia all the time. The sufferer may also experience this sensation when something triggers the fear, like a close encounter with a dead animal or the funeral of a loved one or friend. The fear may have developed when a person witnessed a death, or was forced to attend a funeral as a child. Some people experience this after viewing frightening media. Sarah Michelle Gellar is a necrophobic – afraid of the dead. She also has a fear of graveyards and refuses to film in them! The fear can manifest itself as a serious condition. Treatment options include medication and therapy.

Blood phobia or Hemophobia or Haemophobia is the extreme and irrational fear of blood. Severe cases of this fear can cause physical reactions that are uncommon in most other fears, specifically vasovagal syncope (fainting). Similar reactions can also occur with trypanophobia and traumatophobia. For this reason, these phobias are categorized as “blood-injection-injury phobia” by the DSM-IV. Some early texts refer to this category as “blood-injury-illness phobia.” Blood phobia is often caused by direct or vicarious trauma in childhood or adolescence.[5] Though some have suggested a possible genetic link, a study of twins suggests that social learning and traumatic events, rather than genetics, is of greater significance.

The inclusion of “blood-injury phobia” within the category of specific or simple phobias in classificatory systems reflects a perception that fear has a primary role in the disorder. Consistent with this assumption, blood-injury phobia appears to share a common etiology with other phobias. Kendler, Neale, Kessler, Heath, and Eaves (1992) have argued from data comparing monozygotic with dizygotic twins that the genetic factor common to all phobias (agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobias), strongly predisposes a person to specific phobias.

The recognition of an inherited vulnerability common to all phobias is consistent with the notion that elevated trait anxiety predisposes one to anxiety disorders Trait anxiety provides a background of affective arousal that permits a more rapid activation of the fight or flightresponse. With respect to specific activating events, conditioning is one way that stimuli become able to elicit anxiety. Accordingly, painful experiences can condition fear to blood-injury stimuli. Investigators typically classify around 60% of self-reported onsets of blood-injury phobia as beginning with conditioning experiences.

However, examinations of available case-by-case verbal summaries call into question the conclusion that conditioning episodes are as prevalent as reported. The fictitious Dr. Martin Ellingham, the main character of British Television’s Doc Martin, is a brilliant and successful vascular surgeon at Imperial College London who develops haemophobia (a fear of blood), and as a result is forced to stop practicing surgery. The standard approach to treatment is the same as with other phobias – cognitive-behavioural therapy, desensitization, and possibly medications to help with the anxiety and discomfort. In recent years, the technique known as applied tension, applying tension to the muscles in an effort to increase blood pressure, has increasingly gained favour as an often effective treatment for blood phobia associated with drops in blood pressure and fainting.

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