Treating Phobias with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): How to Overcome Fears and Phobias For Good?
Fear is a natural biological reaction in humans.
In fact, it is due to fear that human beings survived throughout the history.
Fear has become essential in our survival and evolution as a species, even when we don’t have to fight wild beasts to survive anymore.
However, while it’s normal to feel fear towards certain objects or situations, things can get out of hand and fear can turn into a phobia.
In this article, you’re going to discover how you can overcome your fears and phobias using Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Ready? Let’s get started!
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Fears and Phobias
- Treating Phobias with CBT
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy – or CBT rests on the belief that how we think influences our feelings and behaviors, and that by correcting or changing distorted beliefs we can achieve more balanced feelings and helpful behaviors.
Fears and Phobias
Phobias are an irrational and recurrent fear response to something that’s unlikely to cause any harm. It usually develops during childhood and persists into adulthood.
Although, the person suffering from phobia knows that their fear is irrational and that the stimulus poses no actual threat, their reasoning, isn’t helping them overcome their phobias.
For some people, their phobias aren’t severe enough to require treatment especially if they can easily avoid their feared stimulus. However, in some other cases, phobias can impair the person’s functioning and well-being.
Treating Phobias with CBT
The most common clinical treatment for phobias are; antidepressants, anxiolytics, beta-blockers, psychodynamic therapy, behavioral therapy, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
CBT help individuals better manage, minimize, and sometimes eliminate their fears and phobias.
Since specific phobias are deeply rooted in a person’s dysfunctional beliefs, CBT work best, because if focuses on changing thoughts patterns.
Some of the most common kinds of specific phobias that CBT can treat are the following:
1. Arachnophobia (fear of spiders and arachnids)
Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and arachnids.
This phobia is one of the most common kind of specific phobias.
While it is understandable why many of us would be afraid of spiders and scorpions considering that many of them are venomous.
But individuals with Arachnophobia experience a more intense fear than other people. The mere sight or even image of a spider can be enough to paralyze them with terror.
Arachnophobia is unreasonable because only a minority of arachnid species is actually venomous and it inhibits the wilderness or the desert. Yet individuals with arachnophobia freeze even when they find a harmless domestic spider.
CBT and Arachnophobia
Exposure and desensitization therapy is a CBT technique of choice in resolving Arachnophobia.
Exposure and Desensitization Therapy
Exposure and desensitization therapy involves the systematic exposure of the individual to their feared stimulus until they learn to cope with their distress in a more functional way and feel less afraid about it.
Work through your fear slowly in a series of gradual exposure exercises:
* Try to think about a spider and resist your usual fear response, such as screaming, tensing up, crying, etc.
* If you find it hard to do, try to calm yourself with meditation and repeating positive affirmation, such as “I’m safe,” or “It’s just a thought.”
* Do this for at least 5 minutes.
Repeat the process the following days, and increase your time of exposure each time, until you feel comfortable enough to move on to looking at a picture of a spider.
Once you’ve done that, try using VR technology to stimulate a spider, or skip to being in the same room as a spider.
Avoid any fear responses and simply calm yourself and talk yourself through it. Rationalize your fear until you convince yourself that there’s nothing to fear.
2. Acrophobia (fear of heights)
Acrophobia is an intense fear of heights.
This kind of phobia can be very disruptive for individuals who have to face heights often, such as working in a high-rise building, looking out on their apartment window, riding a train over a tall bridge, etc.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is very effective in Acrophobia. By confronting a person’s deep-seated fears and changing their way of thinking about heights, CBT help people suffering from Acrophobia control their fear-inducing thought patterns.
CBT and Acrophobia
* Relax and clear your head by listening to some calming music or meditate.
* Imagine yourself in high place, like a mountain top overlooking a beautiful view. It’s important to stay calm while doing this. If you find yourself getting anxious, calm yourself down and talk yourself through it.
* Repeat positive affirmation to yourself, like “I’m safe,” or, “I feel calm, it’s okay for me to be around heights.”
* Once you feel comfortable enough, try going even higher.
* When you feel secure enough, try applying it in real life. Imagine yourself looking down an apartment window, or riding an elevator while enjoying the view.
If you start to panic, take deep relaxing breaths and relax your muscles until you calm down before continuing with the exercise.
3. Aerophobia (fear of flying)
Aerophobia is an extreme fear of flying.
This phobia often keeps people from riding planes or traveling which causes them to sometimes miss out on career opportunities or even amazing vacations.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be an effective solution to Aerophobia. CBT helps individuals unlearn their maladaptive responses to heights
CBT and Aerophobia
Exposure and Desensitization Therapy
“Exposure and Desensitization Therapy” explained above can be a great CBT technique that will help you unlearn your maladaptive responses to heights.
Another CBT technique you can use to overcome your Aerophobia is called “Socratic Questioning”. This technique help you evaluate how accurate and helpful your fears actually are.
* Start by specifying what you feel or believe like stating “I am afraid of being in planes,” or, “I am afraid of flying.”
* Challenge that belief by asking “why?” and answer truthfully. Don’t settle for “I don’t know,” or, “Just because.” Get to the real reason. This could be worrying that a crash might happen, or a turbulence might happen, etc.
* Rationalize your fear, like saying “Statistically speaking, the odds of being in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million,” or, “My friends fly all the time, nothing bad happened to them.”
Once you understand that your fears aren’t justified, it will be easier for you to rid planes and fly, and the more you do, the less nervous you’ll be.
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4. Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
Cynophobia is a severe fear of dogs.
This phobia is particularly difficult to leave without treatment since you probably know a lot of people who have pet dogs and are going to meet more than a few dogs in the street and other public spaces.
This can keep you from functioning well in your day-to-day life, prevent you from walking down the street or going to certain places and spending time with certain people who own pet dogs.
While some cases of Cynophobia develop from a traumatic early experience of being bitten or chased by a dog, studies show that the majority of individuals with Cynophobia have never even had any direct encounters with a dog at all.
Experts believe that Cynophobia is rooted in individuals’ negative thinking and misconceptions regarding dogs and the actual danger they pose.
This is why CBT is the most recommended form of psychotherapy for treating Cynophobia.
CBT and Cynophobia
Exposure and Desensitization Therapy
Like the other phobias, Cynophobia is commonly treated with exposure and desensitization therapy.
* Relax yourself and take deep calming breaths.
* Start thinking about dogs. Don’t move on to the next step unless you feel comfortable thinking about dogs without fear. If you find yourself starting to panic, calm yourself down and talk yourself through it.
* Imagine a dog – it’s paws, it’s fur, it’s bark, etc.
* Once you feel comfortable enough, move on to looking at pictures of dog while remaining calm.
* When you’re ready and comfortable enough looking at picture of dogs, go to a pet shop and look at their dogs.
* The final step is to pet a dog or at least going near it without feeling afraid.
5. Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning)
Astraphobia is the extreme fear of thunder and lightning.
This phobia can be particularly stressful especially in times of stormy weather. In some cases, even a darkening sky or light rain can be enough to trigger panic in individuals suffering from Astraphobia.
Individuals with Astraphobia can become obsessed with the weather wasting a lot of their time and energy keeping track of it every day.
This phobia can also prevent them from leaving their homes at the slightest sign of rain or make them hide inside their closet as soon as they hear a thunder or see the flashes of lightning.
Some of them are so convinced that they’ll get struck by lightning if they left their homes in times of bad weather.
CBT and Astraphobia
If this is your case, you can treat your Astraphobia with CBT by doing the following:
* Become aware of your fear responses. Start noticing when you start to feel anxious. Pay attention to symptoms like fast heart beat, heavy breathing, muscle tension, etc.
* Manage this anxiety by using relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, etc.
* Let your emotions wash over you and detach yourself from them. Reassure yourself that you’re safe and that no harm could come to you.
6. Trypanophobia (fear of needles and injections)
Trypanophobia is the extreme fear of needles and injections.
This phobia is typical for children and should diminish as they mature. However, some people still become paralyzed at the sight of needles.
Most individuals with Trypanophobia wrongly believe that they don’t need to treat their phobia and could simply avoid doctors, hospitals or any medical procedures.
This can lead to neglecting personal health and other health problems.
Some people have milder Trypanophobia and are able to get injections, but they would still get extremely anxious and worried, and sometimes even pass out or experience a panic attack.
CBT and Trypanophobia
Exposure and Desensitization Therapy
As with the other phobias, exposure and desensitization therapy can help you become more comfortable around needles and overcome your Trypanophobia.
Mindfulness training is a cognitive strategy that helps you bring attention to the present moment. It stops you from overthinking and becoming overwhelmed with your fears.
* Find a safe, quiet place for you to relax in.
* Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
* You can repeat positive affirmation to calm yourself further, such as “I am brave,” or “I am fearless.”
* Calm yourself by focusing on the stillness of your surroundings and listening to your heart beat.
* Identify your emotions when you think about being injected.
* Assess these emotions objectively. Are they justified?
Seeing for yourself that your fear is irrational will help you regain control over your thoughts, feelings and behavior and help you overcome your Trypanophobia.
7. Mysophobia (fear of dirt and germs)
Mysophobia is the extreme fear of dirt and germs.
This phobia is characterized by an obsessive fear of contamination – by illnesses, body fluids, bacteria, or dirt.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is really effective in treating Mysophobia since the problem is rooted is the individual’s misconception related to the danger a feared stimulus poses.
CBT and Mysophobia
Exposure and sensitization therapy, socratic questioning, psychoeducation, and mindfulness training are common CBT techniques that help with Mysophobia.
Another useful technique is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
EMDR is especially designed to treat distress caused by a certain memory. It is particularly effective if your phobia is rooted in a traumatic experience from the past.
EMDR helps you work through your trauma and recondition your response to the feared stimulus.
The following is an EMDR technique called the “butterfly hug”, that aims to your mind to associate the feared stimulus with calm and positive feelings.
* The first step is to recall the traumatic event that cause the Mysophobia, your most painful memory regarding your phobia, and your most recent memory of it.
* Visualize yourself in the future and picture yourself interacting with the germs or bacteria in non fearful way.
* Picture yourself in that same scenario, but this time, allow yourself to feel afraid.
* Focus on your feelings and slowly put your hand on you upper forearms and give yourself a hug.
* In your mind, go to your happy place while gently tap your shoulder to calm yourself down until your anxiety subsides.
Phobias are among the most widespread of mental illnesses in the world.
But they’re also one of the most successful and easy to treat, especially using CBT.
Techniques like Exposure and Desensitization Therapy, Socratic Questioning, Mindfulness Training, and EMDR, are a few of the many different options to choose from to treat your phobia.
By practicing them, you’ll soon find what works best for you and slowly overcome your phobia.
Need more techniques to beat your phobia? Check out this article: Treating Agoraphobia & Panic Disorder: 9 Steps to Overcome Panic Attacks
Wondering what to read next?
- How to Treat Your Anxiety Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
- Self-Loathing: How to Stop Self-Hatred and Start Loving Yourself?
- Overcome Social Anxiety: How to Defeat Social Anxiety and Create Confidence?
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The 21 Day CBT Workbook for Overcoming Fear, Anxiety And Depression, © 2019 by Jacob Greene. All rights reserved.