THERAPEUTIC TREATMENTS FOR OVERCOMING PHOBIAS
When it comes to the treatment of phobias, there are a number of different therapeutic approaches that your psychologist may utilise. The treatment that is used will be dependent on the phobia that you are suffering from, as well as how long you have had the problem, and whether there are other mental health conditions present. There is no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for phobias, although unlike other ‘disorders’, phobias are something for which I would strongly recommend, and personally use, CBT over all other forms of therapy. Phobias come in many different forms, and can broadly be described as being intense fear of certain objects, thoughts, events, environments, animals, people, behaviours or situations. These fears can range from mild to moderate to extremely crippling and severe. Read on for more on how this works, or view my CBT for phobias infographic to see these points set out in a more visual format.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
CBT is one of the most common techniques used by psychology professionals for those wishing to overcome a phobia. CBT is recommended by The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines, due to positive clinical trial results, and when it comes to Phobias, CBT is really the only treatment that is consistently showing up in research as being effective. This technique consists of three distinct elements:
• Identifying any negative or fearful thoughts you might have, and learning why having these particular thoughts are irrational - separating out distortions and misconceptions from fact.
• Replacing those unhelpful thoughts with rational alternatives that are based more in reality, and that are more conducive to nurturing confidence and empowerment.
• Changing behaviour patterns, and other rituals or habitual actions that are carried out because of fearful thoughts. A large part of CBT will be focused on gradual practical exposure to your particular fear. This is incredibly important, and your psychologist will be able to support you to incrementally face the fear in an experiential way.
The behavioural element of CBT is key - exposure gives you real evidence that the situation is safe. Simply recognising why a phobia is there and what it represents is limited. Until you are able to build practical, empirical evidence that the thing you are phobic about is in fact safe, the fearful thoughts and feelings are unlikely to change. Over time, however, both by exploring thoughts with your psychologist, and, most importantly, by carrying out the techniques and exercises they tailor for you, you will start to de-escalate the perceived threat and get it more into proportion.
In addition to this, psychologists may also ask you to consider mindfulness as a treatment technique. This is a treatment that is frequently carried out alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and many people notice a significant benefit when it comes to using the two in tandem with one another. Mindfulness teaches people to become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, and to focus on why the two are so connected to one another. This is crucial, because once you are aware of your feelings, and how they are precipitated by a thought pattern or memory, you are going to have a lot more control over them. Essentially, you will be able to think far more clearly and start to realise that many of your phobic thoughts and ideas are completely irrational.
Only in the most extreme cases will the psychology practitioner also recommend medication to help a client deal with their anxiety or phobias while working with CBT and graded exposure. However, it is worth noting that medication will only be suggested as a ‘last resort’ treatment due to the side effects that can occur. It is unlikely that even a severe case will need to be on medication indefinitely though, if they do go down the CBT route. Once the behavioural treatments begin to have a positive impact on the client’s mental health, they will likely be able to reduce the medication under supervision until they can stop completely.