Phobias 2 – preventing and treating phobias

Scared boy with phobia
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Rob Charteris RMN, BSc Hons, CBT Practitioner

Phobias – don’t pass them on

Parents are the most important thing in a child’s life.

You pass on your language, culture, like and dislikes. You also pass on your fears!

If you have an irrational fear and your child sees you reacting fearfully, they are very likely to act in the same way. So, one of the most important things you can do in respect to your children and phobias, is to try not to pass them on.

If you understand your phobia, how you got it and why it happens, you have a good chance of bringing up well balanced kids, free of phobic reactions.

How to undo a phobia

All phobia treatments make use of the fight or flight mechanism that we talked about in the last article. They do this by using the mechanism in reverse.

What most people don’t know is that your body has to work at making you feel scared. This is why you often feel so tired after a scary event. Your body also has to work and keep producing adrenaline to maintain a fear state. Your body is always seeking a thing called “homeostasis”. What this means is you will adjust to things and eventually reach balance.

The significance of this is, if you “expose” yourself to something that makes you scared, after a while your body will get tired of making adrenaline and eventually stop.

This brings us on to the therapies that are used to treat phobias and they all work either directly or indirectly by “exposing” the subject to the phobic “trigger”.


This is the most dramatic style of exposure. The patient is confronted by their phobic trigger and left until their adrenaline system tires and they no longer feel afraid. An example of this would be putting a big spider on someone and waiting for the fear to go away. Amazingly the phobia will go away in less than an hour and is often permanently cured. This is obviously very stressful for the patient and though very successful and fast, it is not the way most people choose to get over phobias. For obvious reasons!

Graded Exposure

This treatment is slower but often one of the best ways to treat fear. In this case a person would first look at a picture of a spider and then when they feel comfortable gradually increase the stress. Next they might sit across a room from a small spider in a jar. They are sat closer and closer until eventually they can actually touch the spider. This process is slower than flooding but can be very successful in a few therapy sessions.

Cognitive Tools

Phobias are also often treated with hypnosis, NLP and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The process is similar to graded exposure but the patient is encouraged to imagine the phobic trigger and then alter the image in their mind adding music or making it small or watching it as if on a movie screen. This approach often employs relaxation techniques to control adrenaline. CBT makes use of graded exposure and adds the thinking and imaginary process where hypnosis and NLP often only use the imaginary part of the process. In my opinion as a therapist, CBT offers the best mix of graded exposure and cognitive tools but all approaches have merit.

What this means for your children

The key points to get from this article are:-

  • Phobias are the fear response gone wrong and we understand how they work
  • Because we understand how they work we can treat them very effectively
  • Because we understand how they are made we can try to prevent them by overcoming our own fears so that they are not passed on
  • No child should have to suffer a phobia when we have effective tools to treat them



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