Definition: Phobias are a specific type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by an excessive and persistent fear of some particular thing or situation. While the phobia could develop rather rapidly, often they are the result of one or more experiences with the focus on the emotional response which produced negative effects, such as anxiety, fear, rejection, and/or avoidance. To be considered to be a phobia, clinically, the reaction must be present for six months of more.
The phobia is most commonly triggered by the appearance of some particular thing or situation. However, it may also be triggered by the thought of something or the anticipation of encountering it at sometime in the future, usually the near future.
The typical reaction when the phobic individual finds him or herself in the presence of the phobia-inducing stimulus is to get away from its presence as quickly as possible. Thus, the person who has a phobia for clowns, for example, will seek to get away from a situation in which they are confronted by a clown in some way. The presence of the phobia-inducing stimulus need not be in the phobic individual’s immediate physical presence, however. Even the image of it in TV, in a movie or computer screen will cause an immediate reaction.
Because people who are phobic fear the presence of some stimulus, they will often take great pains to avoid finding themselves in its presence. This is known as “avoidance.” A simple example of this is for the person who is phobic about clowns, they will avoid going to the circus, watching movies or TV programs in which a clown might appear. If the presence of the phobia-inducing stimulus is successfully avoided, then the phobic person will behave normally. But, in the presence of the phobia-inducing stimulus, they might act very irrationally. Further, they might not explain the basis for their reactions to the people around them for fear of being made fun of, so their responses to the phobia-inducing stimulus may seem all the more irrational to other people.
If the phobic person cannot avoid the stimulus or can’t escape its presence, they will express a high degree of distress, perhaps even hysteria. For example, if a person has a phobia against seeing blood is injured and they see their own blood, they might become hysterical or faint. Another response to exposure to the phobia-inducing stimulus might be a panic attack, feelings of uncontrollable anxiety, sweating, and other emotional-physical symptoms in a crisis mode.
The origin of phobias can sometimes be attributed to some incident or situation that happened to the phobic person in the past. Thus, seeing blood, for example, may stimulate powerful memories of an accident in which the phobic person bleed profusely or he or she saw someone else bleeding. In other cases, the source of the phobic stimulus and reaction may not be so easily identifiable. This is where the psychologist comes in. Through psychological counseling the source of the phobia can be discovered by means of delving into the personality and experiences of the person.
Thus, phobias may not be a “life sentence” for the individual. With knowledge of or through the discovery of the source of the phobias, their anxiety-inducing power can be defused, allowing the previously-phobic person a sense of freedom from such irrational anxiety and fears. That is one powerful reason the consult a psychologist in recognizing and dealing with phobias, to dispel their power over the fears and emotions of the individual. Therefore, if you are experiencing phobias of some sort, consultation with a psychologist is a logical place to start in finding relief from them.