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Fears and Phobias

Fears and phobias are intense, irrational reactions to something that poses little or no actual danger. Some of the more common phobias center around public speaking, flying, driving, heights, closed-in places, water, and needles or blood. Phobias are not just extreme fears; they are irrational fears of a particular activity. For example, some people can ski on the highest mountains but are unable to go above the 5th floor in an office building. People with phobias realize their fears are irrational but they may find that facing--or even thinking about--the feared situation triggers anxiety or a panic attack.

Many people with specific phobias do not know that effective treatment is available so they avoid the feared situation instead of seeking help. This can limit activities or even lead to disability. People seek help when avoidance becomes impractical or avoidance interferes with work, family or personal relationships.

Treatment for Fears and Phobias

Fears and phobias respond very well to cognitive behavioral therapy combined with exposure therapy. Research studies and clinical experience suggest that psychotherapy is safer, more effective, and produces longer lasting results than treatment with medications.

Each of the three parts of treatment is important: cognitive, behavioral, and exposure.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Fears and Phobias

If you face your fear but continue to believe the activity or situation is dangerous, you are likely to remain afraid. The cognitive part of treatment helps you identify your fears, challenge them, and change your thinking.

You are also likely to remain afraid if you avoid your fear, leave when afraid, or numb your fear with drugs or alcohol. The behavioral part of treatment helps you change your response to the feared situation or activity. You learn anxiety management skills such as muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, self-hypnosis, mindfulness, or acceptance.

Exposure Therapy for Fears and Phobias

If you tell yourself a feared situation isn’t dangerous but never face your fear, you will remain afraid. Exposure therapy involves deliberately and repeatedly facing your fear using your skills and your new thinking, until you are no longer afraid. Exposure is also called desensitization or habituation. If you never face your fear, you can never truly believe you are safe and able to cope.

Virtual Reality for Exposure Therapy

Exposure is essential, but can be the hardest part of treatment. Virtual reality therapy makes effective treatment easier and faster. You face your fear in a 3-D, immersive virtual reality which can be controlled and tailored for your needs. You face your fear safely, gradually, with your therapist’s guidance and support as often as needed until you overcome your fear.

CBT using virtual reality for exposure is research-supported and fast becoming the gold standard for treatment. Dr. McMahon has been using CBT and virtual reality for exposure (see Virtual Reality Therapy) with scores of clients since 2010. She has found that virtual reality is very beneficial in making exposure easier, faster, and more effective.

Call Dr, McMahon (1-415-625-3565) for more information or to arrange an appointment.