Specific Phobias

Individuals with specific phobias experience excessive or unreasonable fear of specific objects or situations. While specific phobias can include fear of almost anything, the most common phobias fall into the following categories:

  • Animal Phobias (includes dogs, spiders, snakes, etc.)
  • Natural Environment Phobias (fear of heights, water, storms, etc.)
  • Blood-Injection-Injury Phobias (cued by seeing blood or injury, getting an injection)
  • Situational Phobias (public transportation, tunnels, flying, driving)

An important distinction to make when considering specific phobias is that the fear is specific to the object or situation itself, and is not a fear of having a panic attack (as in panic disorder) or a fear better explained by one of the other anxiety disorders (OCD, social phobia, etc.)

DSM-IV criteria for specific phobia include:

  1. Excessive or unreasonable fear cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation
  2. Exposure to the object or situation provokes an immediate anxiety response or a panic attack.
  3. The person recognizes the fear as unreasonable.
  4. The object or situation is avoided or endured with intense distress. Avoidance and anxious anticipation or distress regarding the feared object or situation inteferes significantly with normal functioning.

Effective treatment for specific phobias almost always involves exposure to the feared object or situation. Both cognitive-behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy emphasize the importance of experiencing and accepting anxiety as part of effective exposure treatment.