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A phobia is a persistent and overwhelming fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. The fear can be incapacitating, if severe then a person might try to organise their life so that they do not have to face the thing that they fear. If this is not possible, then they can suffer considerable distress.

A phobia is more than just a fear. The strength of the fear is usually disproportional to the actual danger posed, and they are very often recognised as something that is irrational.

If you don’t come into contact with the source of your phobia very often, it may not affect your day to day life. However, with some phobias, such as agoraphobia (see below), leading a normal life may be very difficult.

How common are phobias?


Phobias are the most common type of anxiety disorder. It’s estimated that around 10 million people in the UK have a phobia.

They can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex and social background. Some of the most common phobias include:

  • arachnophobia – fear of spiders
  • claustrophobia – fear of confined spaces
  • agoraphobia – fear of open spaces and public places
  • social phobia – fear of social situations



There may not be any symptoms until you come into contact with the source of your phobia, but in some cases just thinking about your fear or phobia can bring on the symptoms.

Phobias are a type of anxiety, therefore the symptoms are very similar. They may include:

  • feeling unsteady, dizzy or light-headed
  • nausea
  • sweating
  • increased heart rate or palpitations
  • shortness of breath
  • trembling or shaking
  • an upset stomach


Types of phobias

There are a many different objects or situations that someone could develop a phobia about. However, phobias can be divided into two main categories:

  • specific or simple phobias
  • complex phobias


Specific or simple phobias

Specific or simple phobias are focused on a particular object, animal, situation or activity. They often develop during childhood or adolescence and may become less severe as you get older.


Common examples of simple phobias include:

  • animal phobias – such as dogs, spiders, snakes or rodents
  • environmental phobias – such as heights, deep water and germs
  • situational phobias – such as visiting the dentist or flying
  • body based phobias – such as blood, vomit or having injections


Complex phobias

Complex phobias can be more disabling than simple phobias. They tend to develop during adulthood and are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular situation or circumstance.


Two common complex phobias are:

  • agoraphobia – when you feel anxious about being in a place or situation where escaping may be difficult if you suffer with panic or anxiety. This can include a fear of open spaces, but can also include avoidance of being alone, being in crowded places, travelling on public transport.
  • social phobia – this is when you feel anxiety in social situations. This can include fear of speaking in front of people, fear of embarrassing yourself in front of other people or being humiliated in public. It can lead to avoidance of things such as eating out or meeting friends.

What causes phobias?


Phobias do not have a single cause, but there are often a number of associated factors. For example:

  • a phobia may be associated with a particular incident or trauma
  • a phobia may be a learned response that a person develops early in life from a parent or brother or sister
  • genetics may play a role – there’s evidence to suggest some people are born with a tendency to be more anxious than others


Treating phobias

Almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured.

Simple phobias can be treated through gradual exposure to the object, animal, place or situation that causes fear and anxiety. This is known as desensitisation or self-exposure therapy.

Treating complex phobias often takes longer and involves talking therapies, such as counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

The physical reactions (symptoms) that a person experiences when faced with the object of their fear are real and aren’t simply “all in the head”.

The body reacts to the threat by releasing the hormone, adrenalin, which causes bodily symptoms, such as sweating, trembling, shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat.

People who are considering getting help to manage a phobia often ask if they will be forced to face the thing that they fear. The answer to this is that in therapy we will never force anyone to do anything, or expect anyone to do something that they do not want to. However, to get over a phobia it will be necessary to face the fear at some point, and we would work with you on finding ways to make this prospect feel safe, manageable and as comfortable as possible. We would work at the pace that you were able to manage.


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1 Contact Us

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2 Meet with us

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3 Make a start

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