LEARNING

Treating Phobias

Treating Phobias

Phobias may be caused by conditioning which has gone wrong during childhood. This means than an individual has mistakenly learnt to associate a certain object or experience with great fear or that it only requires a mention or sighting of that object to make them scared again. Phobias are irrational and have little basis in reality. For a grown man to start trembling at the sight of a chicken, dead or alive, is of course irrational and yet enough people are afraid of chickens for it to warrant its own special name: alektorophobia. Some people are even terrified of knees. This is called genuphobia.

Flooding: One way in which phobias have been treated is by exposing the phobic person to the thing they fear most until the fear disappears entirely. This is known as flooding. The reasoning behind this is that the individual very quickly learns that there is no rational connection between the object and the fear. When the phobic person realises that nothing bad is happening to them, despite being exposed to the object, they become unconditioned. This, however, is a very intense and stressful procedure and the psychologist must judge if this is an appropriate approach to take.

Systematic desensitization:This is a more gradual process which involves slowly exposing an individual to the thing they fear. Usually people will have a hierarchy of fears i.e. if it is cats they fear it may be that even the word ‘cat’ provokes some anxiety. Being in the same room as a cat may provoke yet more anxiety and finally contact with a cat may cause them great panic and fear. A therapist treating someone with this condition will move through each of these three stages, all the while using a number of techniques to keep them relaxed. Movement to the next stage will only occur if the phobic person is sufficiently relaxed.

Ethical issues: This approach requires the phobic person’s cooperation: the phobic will often have a say in how quickly they move through the process. It is generally considered to be more ethical than flooding which involves detaining someone against their will, even if they have agreed to it before hand.