Specific Phobias

Ah, now here's a problem everyone knows. Specific Phobia involves an intense fear of an object or situation that is not objectively dangerous. Here are some examples:

• Blood
• Needles
• Medical procedures
• Dogs
• Cats
• Spiders
• Snakes
• Other animals
• Heights
• Enclosed spaces
• Water
• Loud noises
• Flying
...and more. Humans are capable of developing intense fears to just about anything.

The people who have specific phobias - and they are a huge proportion of the population - get remarkably little sympathy from their friends and family. Indeed, if they tell others about their fears they often get more teasing than concern.

And yet specific phobias can be disabling. People turn down jobs because they can't ride elevators. They avoid important medical tests out of a fear of needles. They may become nearly housebound due to a fear of dogs. These problems deserve to be taken seriously.


Treatment of phobias typically involves structured exposure exercises designed to introduce the feared object at easily tolerated intensities (for example, a black and white drawing of a spider), gradually working up at the client's own pace to more direct exposures.

This work might take place during therapy sessions or as between-session work. It might also be carried out in the person’s imagination (for example, fantasizing about going on a flight). In some cases, relaxation exercises are paired with exposure to accelerate the process.

Although treatment for phobias can seem quite simple, it is remarkably effective. Most clients are surprised at how quickly they are able to overcome their fears - IF they are willing to do the work of exposure!

The main challenge is not terror, as you might expect, because we structure the treatment so that it is never overwhelming. The challenge is a more surprising one: Feared objects eventually become rather boring with extended exposure. If the person knows this and can tolerate a bit of boredom, exposure works remarkably well.

Note: Information on these pages is provided for educational purposes only. It should not be taken as a substitute for care from a qualified healthcare provider.