What Should We Do with Phobias


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A phobia can be defined as an extreme and irrational fear of an object or situation. The fears are usually disproportionate to the actual danger involved, and they lead to avoidance of that subject or object. Phobias can be split into many categories one of them being specific phobias, which lead to strong fears of and avoidance of a specific object or situation. Specific phobias are prevalent in 10% of the population and tend to affect more women than men. Examples of specific phobias include: agoraphobia (the fear of being in situations where escape may be hard to find), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and acrophobia (the fear of heights).

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Etiologies are a set of causes in a particular disorder or condition. It is important that we study etiologies so that we know how to better prevent or cure these disorders. There are three main types of etiologies: biological, cognitive, and socio- cultural. Researchers have found that some people are more susceptible to getting specific phobias, which has led to believe that biology and genetics play a role in developing certain fears and phobias. In 1992, Ost conducted a study in which he interviewed blood-phobic and injection-phobic patients. He found that 62% of the patients reported having 1st-degree relatives who shared their same specific phobia. This concordance rate supported the idea that phobias can be linked to genetics. The cognitive etiology states that phobias are caused by sensation, avoidance, and negative or irrational thought processes. In 1988, Di Nardo et al. 56% of people with a specific phobia of dogs had a prior unpleasant encounter with dogs, however 50% of the people he studies also had prior unpleasant encounters with dogs that did not lead to them becoming afraid of them. He concluded that the differences in the participants who did not develop the phobia and the ones who did were there perception and though processes about the situation, thus supporting the cognitive theory. The socio-cultural etiology, unlike the other two, is less clear. There is little evidence to support that our environment affects our phobia, however in 1986 Mineka and Cook conducted an experiment in which they found that monkeys that were born in a lab could be conditioned and learn to fear snakes despite the fact that they had no innate fear of them if they were surrounded by wild monkeys who were already afraid of snakes.

There are many treatments for phobias, starting with biomedical treatments which include SSRI anti-depressants and Benzodiazepine tranquillizer. Both of these drugs attempt to reduce or eliminate the effects and symptoms of the phobia and while successful, Benzodiazepine tranquillizers have been known to have many side effects. Another treatment option for phobias are individual therapies both behaviorist and cognitive. An example of behaviorist therapy is flooding in which patients are suddenly and overwhelmingly exposed to their phobia in the hopes that they will find the courage to calm themselves. Flooding can be very traumatizing to patients which is there are legitimate ethical claims against it.

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