Phobias And Fears: What's The Difference?

Published: 07th February 2012
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Many people come to a hypnotherapist's clinic because they suffer from a phobia. Phobias are often treated by a joke by those who don't have them and don't understand them, but phobias are no joke at all if you suffer from one.

What is a phobia? Right back in the early days of psychology, early therapists such as Sigmund Freud (who, incidentally, included hypnotherapy as part of his psychoanalytic techniques) noticed phobias and classified them as a kind of psychological disturbance that could be treated. "Phobia" is a term that is taken from the Greek word "phobos" meaning fear, but a distinction needs to be drawn between phobias and what could be termed ordinary fear.

Ordinary fear is not a psychological problem but is a survival trait that helps human beings stay safe. A healthy human will be afraid of doing dangerous and stupid things such as playing chicken with road trains, pulling the ears of a pitbull or trying to see if your Halloween Superman costume will help you fly off a tall building.. This sort of fear is healthy and normal, and acts to trigger the body into the "flight or fight" response that releases the adrenaline that can be used for intense action.

But phobias are different. A phobia of the sort that people come to hypnotherapy for is an irrational fear. In a person suffering from a phobia, the adrenaline-releasing fight or flight response is triggered by something that "ordinary" people (or the rational mind) would not consider to be dangerous. Phobias are sometimes referred to as "morbid fears", indicating that they are not a healthy response and are a form of mental disorder.

People who are fond of word play often have fun inventing odd phobias using Greek words to make up new ones. These "just for fun" lists of phobias often include peculiar fears that are seldom encountered, such as "xanthophobia" (fear of the colour yellow), "Teutophobia" (fear of Germans) and "plutophobia" (fear of wealth). The list of these rare, weird or unusual phobias is very long and is possibly infinite. However, these phobias are not very common and are seldom treated by hypnotherapy. It is conceivable that a person could suffer from these unusual fears because of trauma in the past - such as the documented case of a person who suffered from a phobia triggered by fluffy toys because a fluffy toy dangling from the rear vision mirror was the last thing seen before a horrific car crash that left the sufferer orphaned as a child - but these are very rare.

Some phobias are more common, and people often present for hypnotherapy suffering from them. These common phobias are listed and described below:

Acrophobia: This is more commonly known as "fear of heights" but goes beyond a mere feeling of unease at the top of a ladder - that is ordinary fear in action. Acrophobia is not the same as vertigo, or a sensation of dizziness caused by looking down from a height. Instead, acrophobia is characterised by having a phobic reaction (see below) when the sufferer is in any high place - or something that is perceived as being a height, even if it isn't. In extreme forms of acrophobia, even standing on a chair to retrieve an item from a cupboard can trigger a phobic reaction. One of the major problems with acrophobia is that if someone experiences the phobic reaction when in high place that is potentially dangerous, he or she can become so paralyzed with fear that they cannot move.

Agoraphobia: Literally, this means "fear of the market place". Agoraphobia is a fear of leaving a "safe" environment such as the home. It was once thought that agoraphobia was a fear of open spaces, but nowadays, agoraphobia is considered to be a form of social phobia where a person has a fear of being in a place with lots of other people, such as a shopping mall or airport. Needless to say, this form of phobia can really interfere with normal life and needs treatment.

Aquaphobia: Aquaphobia is a fear of water but is not the same as hydrophobia, which is one of the symptoms of the viral disease rabies. Hydrophobia is a physical condition caused by a virus; aquaphobia is a psychological condition that is characterised by a fear of getting wet or deep water. Again, this goes beyond ordinary caution in and around water and can even prevent the sufferer from carrying out ordinary activities such as taking a bath.

Cynophobia: This is a fear of dogs and again, it is not just the healthy respect most people have for strange dogs of breeds known to be aggressive. A person suffering from cynophobia will have a panic attack if even a small dog walks onto the pavement in front of them. People often seek hypnotherapy for help with cynophobia if their fear of dogs is hindering a relationship or their social life.

Claustrophobia: This is fear of enclosed spaces and is characterised by a feeling of panic and sense of suffocation in an enclosed space such as a lift or small room, or even a car. This sort of phobia can severely affect the sufferer's everyday life and prevent them from participating in many common activities.

All phobias have several traits in common, and these traits are used to diagnose a phobia. Phobias are very similar to panic attacks and anxiety, and these conditions often overlap and can be treated jointly, by hypnotherapy or otherwise. In a phobia, a person suffers a panic attack, characterised by sweating, elevated pulse, hyperventilation, freezing and extreme distress. This reaction is triggered by exposure to something specific (the something specific is used to name the phobia, e.g. water) or even thinking about or expecting exposure to this specific trigger. Often, the person with the phobia recognises that their fear is irrational and that they are in no real danger, and it is this recognition that motivates people to seek hypnotherapy or some other form of treatment.


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