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Best Treatment for Fears and Phobias

Fears and phobias can be treated with psychotherapy (primarily cognitive behavioral therapy), medications, or both.

What is the best treatment for fears and phobias?

Research studies and clinical experience suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy, combined with exposure therapy, is safer, more effective, and provides longer lasting benefits than treatment with medications.

All medicines can have side effects. Short-acting anti-anxiety medications can be addicting and habit-forming. Long-acting medications like antidepressants may need to be taken daily for months or years and are often not effective for phobias. Even when medicine helps, fears may return when the medicine is stopped.

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.

For More Information

For more information on the treatments Dr. McMahon offers for fears and phobias, see Anxiety Treatment. Please call Dr. McMahon at 1-415-625-3565 for more information or to arrange an appointment.