by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
Afraid of spiders and snakes? A continuing goal of the AMHF is to continue to bring to everyone’s awareness difficulties that may rob us of happiness. New therapies continue to be developed and older ones improved. There is, indeed, cause for hope.
In the words of our long-time director, Dr. Stefan de Schill, exiles from all happiness need not remain so.
A highly effective treatment for simple phobias is behavior therapy. This is a series of controlled situations that gradually increase the individual’s tolerance of the feared object or situation.
There are probably hundreds if not more simple phobias. Some common ones include fear of blood, elevators, snakes, spiders, dogs, storms, water, birds, flying, choking, as well as many, many others. Simple phobias are interesting in that they often occur in people who are otherwise well-adjusted. In most cases, people with phobias know that they are irrational but they will often tell you, “I can’t help myself.” Sometimes, phobias will be part of obsessive-compulsive (OCD) behavior and it may be difficult to separate the two. For example, in Aviator, did Howard Hughes suffer from germ phobia or obsessive-compulsive disorder? Since he had so many other obsessive-compulsive behaviors, he would probably have been diagnosed as having OCD.
Treatment of phobias includes a certain number of limited sessions. In each succeeding session, the person receives “exposure” to situations that evoke more and more anxiety. Doing this in manageable steps makes the feared object easier to confront. Behavior therapists try to do this in ten-to-fifteen sessions.
When behavior therapy was being developed, there was another technique called flooding, which placed the person, fairly rapidly, in the feared situation. An individual with a fear of bridges might be driven over the bridge fairly soon after coming for treatment. Many times, when flooding is used, the individual becomes frightened and then a higher level of anxiety is learned. Flooding is much less-frequently used today.
Medication can also be helpful.
The lifetime prevalence rate of phobias is over 10 percent and maybe higher. After all, who wants to admit irrational fears? In a nation with more than 300 million citizens, over 30 million may experience these at some point. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies has a helpful Web site explaining behavioral and cognitive therapies http://www.aabt.org This highly regarded professional group will be holding its annual national conference in New York City this November. A representative of AMHF plans to attend.