Fears and Phobias Treatment and Information Part 2

About fears and phobias, definitions of a variety of phobias, information on treatment and therapy options.

Find Your Phobia

But how can anyone generalize about fears when there are such specific ones around as arachibutyrophobia, the fear of getting peanut butter stuck in the roof of the mouth? Actually, at least 14 million adult Americans suffer from unreasonable fears of one kind or another says Dr. Leslie Solyom, assistant professor of psychiatry at Montreal's McGill University. "Phobias can strike anyone," he notes, "and not all phobia victims are timid, shy, retiring persons." Most of these phobias spring from an unpleasant childhood experience, often reactivated by something "unrelated to the phobia itself, such as a bad marriage or an unpleasant job." Dr. Solyom has treated some really kinky cases, including a cabdriver who had to change jobs because he feared red lights; a housewife who wouldn't go to church because she feared she would shout obscenities in the midst of the service; and an insurance agent who quit his job because he was afraid of being contaminated by germs, hardly touched anything, and washed his hands 32 times daily.

Some psychiatrists believe that phobias develop as a defense against anxiety. The anxiety, instead of remaining diffuse, is displaced onto a concrete object and is thus reduced. Generally the person afflicted is aware of the unreasonableness of his fear but is unable to control it. There are several major fallacies about phobias that should be corrected. First, it should be understood that otherwise healthy people can have phobias. Second, phobias are not signs of severe mental disorders but are, rather, signs of neurotic conflicts. Third, severe fear and death do not result from phobias. And finally, the best way to deal with phobias is not to force the person to live with them. Desensitization of the individual to the phobic situation is the best treatment.

Fortunately, there have been recent advances in treating phobic patients. British doctors are desensitizing patients to their abnormal fears by injection of a barbiturate anesthetic, their method consisting of deliberately provoking an anxiety by having the patient imagine himself in the situation he fears. As his anxiety builds up, he is given an intravenous injection of the anesthetic agent, the idea being to break the bond between stimulus and response--the patient learning to associate previously feared situations with relaxation and tranquility.

In Hillside Medical Center--the Jewish Hospital in Long Island, N.Y.--extensive work is being done with phobic patients. Dr. Charlotte Zitrin, a director of the hospital's program, calls it a process of "densensitization in the imagination." Teaching a patient not to fear dogs unreasonably involves this process, she says. "If the patient is afraid of dogs, we tell him, 'Imagine you are across the street and half a block away from a small gentle dog on a leash.' Gradually we bring the dog closer to sniff at the patient's feet. Then we make it a larger dog. Then one not on a leash. Then we instruct the patient to go out to see a friend who has a dog or go to a pet shop and examine a dog. This works."

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