Updated: 1/29/2020 A phobia is defined by Merriam-Webster as an extremely strong dislike or fear of something or someone. Typically, it’s a fear that poses little to no threat in…

Overcoming a Debilitating Phobia

How to Get Rid of a Debilitating Phobia

Updated: 1/29/2020

A phobia is defined by Merriam-Webster as an extremely strong dislike or fear of something or someone. Typically, it’s a fear that poses little to no threat in reality. It’s different from normal fears in that the degree to which a person is impacted by the fear is increasingly high.

The typical symptoms people with phobias experience include:

  • Feelings of great terror, dread or panic
  • An inability to distract oneself from the feared object or person
  • Dizziness, trembling, rapid heartbeat or some other uncontrollable physical reaction
  • A strong desire to get away from the person or object

As you can see from the symptoms, phobias can seriously detract from one’s daily activities and make their fear debilitating. Even more so, there are some individuals whose phobias go so far as to make them black out at the sight or even thought of their fear.  Fortunately, there are ways to treat these types of phobias, but first we’ll look at the three major phobias as defined by the American Psychiatric Association.

Different Types of Phobias

There are three major types of phobias, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Social Phobia

Social phobia is an intense fear of public embarrassment. Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from social phobia. Generally, people who have this fear are reluctant to do anything—like eating, speaking or even signing a check—in front of other people. If someone with this phobia does not seek some type of treatment, it can be extremely debilitating.


Agoraphobia is the fear of being in situations that could be difficult or embarrassing to escape. This phobia affects approximately 1.8 million people in the U.S. The most common phobias considered Agoraphobia include:

  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of crowds
  • Fear of leaving home

Specific Phobia

Individuals who have an intense, irrational fear of certain situations or objects have a “specific phobia.” Approximately 19.2 million Americans suffer from a specific phobia. There are four major types of specific phobias. Below we list each major type and some of the most common examples of that particular phobia:


    • Dogs: Known as Cynophobia, the fear of dogs can be a devastating phobia to have, considering the number of people—most likely friends or relatives—who have a dog. Avoiding dogs can be nearly impossible as a result. People with cynophobia may begin to limit their contact with dog owners, even to the point of refusing to go to family gatherings. This increased isolation can lead to anxiety disorders or depression. Some people can even develop the previous two phobias we talked about—social phobia and agoraphobia—as they become more and more, less social, depending on the severity of their phobia.
    • Snakes: Known as Ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes can include only large or venomous snakes or smaller snakes as well. This fear may even go as far as causing the individual to be unable to look at photographs or television shows with snakes. Over time, people with this fear may even start to fear other things that are not directly related to snakes but are a reminder of them, like camping trips or zoos.
    • Birds: Known as Ornithophobia, the fear of birds can be different for each person. Some people who have ornithophobia are afraid of birds of prey, like vultures, while others fear household pets like parakeets. If individuals with ornithophobia are forced to be near a bird, they might cry, freeze in place, shake, run away or hide.  This fear can be hard to deal with because birds are prevalent throughout the world. People who have ornithophobia often restrict their activities to avoid being near birds.
    • Spiders: Known as Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders is one of the most common specific phobias. People who have arachnophobia will sometimes refuse to participate in activities if there is a risk of being near spiders. If someone with arachnophobia comes into contact with a spider, they may scream, run away or freeze in place.


    • Blood: Known as Hemophobia, the fear of blood has the opposite effect of most specific phobias. Whereas most specific phobias cause the heart rate and blood pressure to rise, hemophobia causes blood pressure and heart rate to drop, which can oftentimes lead to fainting. This phobia can be dangerous to your health. People who have hemophobia may be reluctant to seek medical treatment when they need it or postpone their annual physicals to the point of never going. They may refuse surgery or dental treatments for fear of being exposed to blood.
    • Doctors: Known as Iatrophobia, the fear of doctors is more than just not wanting to go to your doctor’s appointment. If you have iatrophobia, before your doctor’s appointment, you may experience:
          • Excessive worrying
          • Hypochondriasis or Nosophobia—other phobias of illness.
          • Postponing doctor appointments
          • Dentophobia—fear of dentists, too.
          • White Coat Hypertension—a significant increase in your blood pressure.

This can be a more difficult phobia to treat because you are afraid of medical professionals. However, latrophobia may be one of the most debilitating phobias there is. Being able to go to your doctor appointments is important for your health.

    • Dentists: Known as Dentophobia, most people with this fear are fearing more than one aspect of going to the dentist:
Dentist Phobia

Photo by Rita M. / CC-NC-ND

          • The dentist himself
          • The numbness or gagging
          • The pain
          • The sounds and smells
          • The needles

In our next post, we’ll talk about ways dentists are helping patients cope with their fear. However, if you have severe dentophobia, to the point where you avoid the dentist at all costs, seeking treatment from a mental health professional would be extremely beneficial for you.

Natural Environment

    • Storms: Known as Astraphobia, the fear of storms causes individuals to shake, cry and sweat during thunderstorms, or just before they begin. Many people with this phobia seek shelter beyond what’s necessary by hiding under the covers, getting under their bed, hiding in the basement or closet or even getting into a storm shelter.
    • Water: Known as Aquaphobia, the fear of water is actually fairly common. The severity of this fear varies depending on the person. Some people are afraid of deep water and strong waves, and others fear swimming pools and bathtubs. Some people are afraid of entering water and others can’t even bear to look at large bodies of water.
    • Situational
        • Heights: Known as Acrophobia, the fear of heights can leave one helpless and agitated if they find themselves up too high. They will not be able to get themselves down safely.
        • Cooking: Known as Megeirocophobia, the fear of cooking leaves individuals feeling anxious, uncomfortable and with a strong dislike of anything that involves cooking.
        • Driving: There’s no official name for this fear, but the fear of driving is comparable to hodophobia—the fear of traveling. People who fear driving can experience trembling, accelerated pulse, sweating, loss of reality and thoughts while they’re driving.
        • Elevators: There’s also no official name for this fear, but the fear of elevators can be associated closely with claustrophobia and agoraphobia.

How Can They Be Treated?

Therapy is one of the top treatments used for phobias and recommended by doctors.

In therapy, you’ll go through what is known as cognitive behavior therapy, which is a therapy method where the clinician helps the client face their feared situation or object and change their response to this fear.

One form of cognitive behavior therapy is “exposure therapy.” This therapy works well for treating phobias. It’s a systematic desensitization: the patient is gradually exposed to the object or situation they fear and they learn to tolerate this increased exposure little by little.

If you’re in need of treatment for a debilitating phobia, here are a few ways you can find a therapist that’s right for you:

  • Search for a Specialized Therapist. There are many therapists who are specialized in a particular area of therapy. Call different offices or visit various websites for therapists in your area who treat someone of your age and who treat patients who have debilitating phobias.
  • Ask Around. Talk to your friends, family, coworkers or your doctor to find a therapist that’s right for you. Some cities even provide a referral hotline you can call as you’re searching for a therapist. Local universities and medical centers can sometimes have mental health centers attached where you’ll be able to find many different mental health specialists that could help you.
  • Go to a Group Seminar. If you know you have an isolated phobia—fear of trains or boats, for example—a group seminar could be helpful for you.
  • Talk to Your Insurance Company. Mental health benefits are covered under most insurance. Talk with your insurance company to find their list of preferred mental health providers.
  • Insurance Alternative. If you don’t have insurance, you may qualify for low-cost services at a local community mental health center.
  • Interview Any Potential Therapists. Have questions ready for your therapist when you go in for your first appointment. He/she’ll have several questions for you but you want to make sure:
      • He/she has good credentials.
      • Is willing to work with you by developing a treatment plan that is affordable and a good fit for you.
      • That he/she is trustworthy and honest with you.

After going through therapy, if proved unsuccessful, you may be able to try anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills or beta-blockers.

Seminar Helps Cope With Phobia

Photo by Julisaustria / CC-ND


Whatever fear or phobia you have, don’t be afraid to seek treatment for it—particularly if you have a fear that can be debilitating. Your health and the health of those around you may depend on you getting treatment to help you overcome your fear.

Do you have a debilitating phobia? What have you done to try and overcome it?

Source: The information for this article was found at About.com Phobias. This resource provides countless pages of information on phobias if you’re still looking for answers.

Natasha is 1Dental’s managing editor and copywriter, focusing content on dental and health news, advice and tips straight from the experts. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and has since been a book editor and now copywriter and managing editor on dental and health. You can find her on Twitter and all of 1Dental’s social networks.

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