Ken Goodman L.C.S.W.

Anxiety and OCD Therapy, Coaching, and Self-Help

What are Phobias?

Phobias are not unusual. There are over 200 of them—most with names that are difficult to pronounce. A common phobia is Arachnophobia; a fear of spiders. A fear of heights is called Acrophobia. Don't confuse acrophobia with aerophobia, which is a fear of flying or with astraphobia, which is a fear of thunder and lighting. I've just touched the tip of the phobia iceberg, beginning with the letter A. On the Internet you can find long lists of phobias that go all the way to Z.

What is a phobia? It is essentially a situational anxiety. A person feels anxious in response to a specific situation. If you become so anxious about the situation that you experience anxiety in anticipation of it, endure the situation with intense anxiety, or avoid it all together, your situational anxiety has become a phobia. People with phobias know their fears are unreasonable or excessive but can't help but feel anxious anyways.

People with phobias will try to avoid the situation or object that they are afraid of.  If they can’t avoid the feared stimuli, anxiety levels may increase to a point of panic and the person may suffer shortness of breath, sweating, trembling and racing heart.

People will also experience anticipatory anxiety, when they know they must confront their fear. Someone with a fear of needles for example, may suffer with anxiety for days leading up to a doctor’s appointment. People with phobias can also experience anxiety from the mere thought of the feared object or situation. Just looking at a photo of spiders can cause someone with Arachnophobia to feel anxious.

Most people can live their life and find ways around their phobia without much hardship.  A person with a fear of elevators may walk up eight flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator.  A person with a fear of clowns will avoid the circus. And a person with a fear of public speaking will find ways to avoid giving speeches.

Sometimes, however, phobias can be problematic and cause one to completely restructure their life or even miss out on things that you would like to experience. This was the case with Whoopi Goldberg who suffered with a fear of flying. For a long time she traveled by private bus, even when going from coast to coast. She avoided flying at all cost. The problem of avoiding what you are afraid of is, it strengthens the fear. This is how phobias become stronger.

Treatment for Phobias
Phobias are easier to treat than one might think. A combination of Cognitive Therapy, relaxation training and systematic desensitization is the gold standard. EMDR and Hypnosis can be very helpful as well.

A (Not Even Nearly Complete) List of Phobias

  • Acrophobia – fear of heights
  • Agliophobia – fear of pain
  • Anuptaphobia – fear of staying single
  • Bibliophobia – fear of books
  • Catoptrophobia – fear of mirrors
  • Chromophobia – fear of colors
  • Claustrophobia – fear of confined spaces
  • Coulrophobia – fear of clowns
  • Entomophobia – fear of insects
  • Gamophobia – fear of marriage
  • Glossophobia – fear of speaking in public
  • Hemophobia – fear of blood
  • Hypengyophobia – fear of responsibility
  • Leukophobia – fear of the color white
  • Musophobia – fear of mice
  • Numerophobia – fear of numbers
  • Ophidophobia – fear of snakes
  • Papyrophobia – fear of paper
  • Pedophobia – fear of children
  • Phobophobia – fear of phobias
  • Ranidaphobia – fear of frogs
  • Technophobia – fear of technology
  • Trichopathophobia – fear of hair
  • Venustraphobia – fear of beautiful women


Risk Factors for Phobias

  • Traumatic life event: Pavlov in describing classical conditioning explained how an object or situation, when paired with an unpleasant stimulus can cause a person to carry over that unpleasantness to the once normal object or situation. For example, if one has a traumatic run-in with a dog at a young age, the person may grow to develop a phobia for dogs, (cynophobia). Or if a person was once trapped in a deathly snowstorm, he/she may develop a fear of snow, (chionophobia).
  • Age: phobias usually develop in early childhood.
  • Family: It seems phobias run in families. A person with an immediate family member who suffers from phobias is three times more likely to develop a phobia.


Excerpts from The Anxiety Solution Series before and after treatment: 

 “If I allowed the nurse at the doctor’s office to put the blood pressure cuff on me, my blood pressure would be so high that I would have to go to the hospital. So I wouldn’t let them take my blood pressure.” – Special Education Aid

After practicing the tools learned in the Anxiety Solution Series, the Special Education Aid no longer had a fear of getting her blood pressure taken. She was able to successfully change the scary image in her imagination from one of fear, to one of humor:

“When I went to actually get my blood pressure taken… it made me laugh which made me relax.” – Special Education Aid

“I can get into elevators now.”

Hotel Concierge, 11-year anxiety sufferer