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Understanding phobias (or irrational fears) and possible treatments for these disorders.

Phobias - definition and symptoms

Definition of phobia

“Phobia” is an anxiety disorder. It is an irrational fear of a specific situation or object (example: animals). This disorder goes beyond simple fear: the subject may be subject to strong anxieties when confronted with the object of his phobia.
The phobic individual is aware of his fear and generally tries to avoid, by all means, the feared object or situation.

The different types of phobias

There are different types of phobias. We distinguish in particular simple phobias from complex phobias (such as agoraphobia, or social phobia).
Among the simple phobias, we find:

  • animal phobias: the subject is afraid of one or more animals or insects

  • phobias of the “natural environment” type: the subject is afraid of natural elements such as thunderstorm, height, water, etc.

  • medical phobias: fear of medical procedures, blood, injections …

Distinguishing “normal” fears from phobias

There are certain frequent fears in the normal development of a child: separation, fear of the dark, fear of “monsters”, etc. These fears appear and disappear naturally without having a significant impact on the well-being of the child and the parents.
However, if fears set in over time and impact the behaviour and well-being of the child, it is advisable to undertake a specific accompaniment with a paediatrician.
Phobia is more than just a fear, it’s an anxiety disorder. It can appear after a particularly unpleasant, stressful or shocking experience.
The origin of phobias is difficult to identify. Many factors (neurobiological, genetic, psychological or environmental) seem to play a role in their appearance. It seems possible that some frequently encountered fears are part of our genetic heritage (in order to preserve ourselves and survive).

Phobias - figures and key data

It is estimated that in France, 1 in 10 people suffer from phobia. Women are more affected than men by these anxiety disorders.
We find that some phobias are more common than others. Among them are:

  • Spider phobia (arachnophobia)

  • Social situations phobia (social phobia)

  • Air travel phobia (aerodromophobia)

  • Phobia of open spaces (agoraphobia)

  • Phobia of confined spaces (claustrophobia)

  • Water phobia (aquaphobia)

What treatments and support for phobia?

The first step in supporting this anxiety disorder is the diagnosis. To do this, health professionals rely on DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 4th edition) or ICD-10 (International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – 10th revision). They can use them in a specific clinical interview to look for signs of a phobia.
Generally, the management of a phobia is done on an outpatient basis with support through psychotherapy and drug treatments.