Fears and Phobias
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It is believed that fears and phobias are caused by things and circumstances that were hazardous for the ancestors of human beings. However, fears and phobias, such as snakes and heights, are not essentially dangerous for humans nowadays.
Therapy for fears and phobias is more helpful than self-help therapy. It worked well in the past, it is backed up by scientific evidence and research, and it can quickly produce beneficial results for an individual.
Human fears and phobias go back a long way. Those fears developed to save humans’ lives and provide protection from natural hazards. These mechanisms appeared in the course of evolution, and, therefore, they are sometimes too strong to overcome. It seems to be normal to be afraid of some things, but phobias often overwhelm people’s daily lives, destroy their personality, and deprive them of many opportunities. In such cases, people who suffer anxiety disorders need special treatment, which is currently represented by physical and psychological treatment. It certainly should be provided by qualified doctors or, at least, under their supervision. If the above conditions are met, it is possible to overcome almost any phobia.
Fears, Phobias and Their Treatment
Needless to say that fear is a natural mechanism, which is normal in many situations. Sometimes, absence of fear may be an indication of some maladies. According to Marks (1987), “fear is a vital evolutionary legacy that leads an organism to avoid threat, and has obvious survival value. It is an emotion produced by the perception of present impending danger, and is normal in appropriate situations” (p. 3). It is also rightly observed that “mild fears of specific situations and objects are quite common in the general population” (Craske, Antony, & Barlow, 2006, p. 2). Marks (1987) explains that without experiencing fear ancient people would be unable to survive in many situations (p. 3). Hence, people should not be ashamed of being afraid of something. Being brave is not always useful and appropriate.
But what is fear? What do people feel when they are afraid? Fear is an emotional experience that involves a number of complicated process. It is hard to understand what it is, unless you have experienced it. According to Marks (1987), fear is not a single emotion but a sum of them. Those emotions, ither good or bad, appear simultaneously or consecutively. A person, whose fear is visibly expressed, has an inner feeling of some physiological changes in his organism. There are two absolutely different expressions of fear in the behavior of humans and animals. The first one is freezing without any move or sound, i.e. imitating death. The other reaction includes screaming and running away from the object that causes fear. These two behavioral schemes may suddenly change one another (p. 4).
Certainly, the feeling of fear is unpleasant and hard to experience, but it often helps to survive. Unlike fears, phobias can be dangerous, for they are much stronger than fears. It is stated by Craske et al. (2006) that people with phobias feel the least anxious when they are not in contact with the objects or situations that evoke their phobia. When those people face what they are afraid of, they experience great discomfort and may try to run away. Such stressful situations are often followed by sweating, blushing, trembling etc. (p. 4).
A phobia is a set of fears, which may be extremely harmful for an individual. If one has a phobia, he/she is excessively distressed by fear of something. Normally, fear should not interfere with a person’s daily routine, professional or social life. That means that phobias are not a means of defense, as they can interrupt a normal course of affairs and prevent people from doing simple things. Moreover, “specific phobias (that cause clinically significant interference and/or distress) are among the most common anxiety disorders” (Craske, Antony, & Barlow, 2006, p. 2).
Phobias can be grouped into four main classes, such as:
- animal fears (e.g., dogs, cats, snakes, spiders, birds, insects),
- natural environment fears (e.g., storms, heights, or water),
- blood or injection injury fears (e.g., blood, surgery, injury),
- situational fears (e.g. flying, driving, enclosed spaces),
The fifth type called “others” includes fears that do not fit in the above-mentioned groups (Craske, Antony, & Barlow, 2006, p. 4).
These types of phobias have different nature and are caused by different phenomena. Their roots can be hidden in the darkest recesses of the human mind. For instance, “most individuals with animal-, blood-, or injection-specific phobia report on onset of difficullties in childhood, whereas situational and natural environment phobias tend to begin later, often in adolescence or early adulthood” (Craske, Antony, & Barlow, 2006, p. 2).
There are two main ways to eliminate a phobia, such as psychological treatment and physical treatment. The second one generally implies taking special drugs, such as antidepressants, by patients having phobias. Marks (1987) describes some other types of physical treatment of phobias that include inhaling gases and psychosurgery. However, he notes that such methods had been used before behavioral treatment was developed. For instance, psychosurgery is used very rarely and only in severe cases, which had not been solved by drug and psychological treatment (Marks, 1987, p. 557).
However, medications are generally considered to be of limited benefit for specific phobias. The few studies that have been conducted have mostly found no benefit from incorporating pharmacological treatments with behavioral treatments” (Craske, Antony, & Barlow, 2009, p.12)
Psychological treatment is widely used nowadays and shows positive results. Marks (1987) admits that there has been a tendency to include the same procedure in many methods of behavioral fear treatments since the 1970s. Long-lasting contact with an object of fear leads to decrease of discomfort (p. 457). Nevertheless, it is important to remember, that “exposure therapy can of course be given only to sufferers who are willing to carry it out” (Marks, 1987, p. 458). Therefore, it must never be compulsory, as such therapy may cause harm to the psychological well-being of a person. Marks noted that “controlled studies agree on the value of self-exposure for most types of phobic disorders (1987, p. 466).
To sum up, it would be a platitude to say that fear can be both useful and dangerous. The main reason why humans developed fear was protection. But ever since its appearance, people’s lives have changed greatly. While human civilization progressed, many of the things that used to endanger people’s lives have ceased to be threatening. However, primal fears did not disappear, and they may still prevent people from achieving their goals or doing daily work. Phobias can also destroy human individuality. Therefore, people often need psychological and physical treatment to overcome some phobias.
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