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condition: phobias

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Phobias

Phobias are often unrecognised and left untreated as people try to cope on their own. Left untreated, people may develop strategies for reducing their anxiety, known as ‘safety behaviours’. Examples include: avoiding drawing attention to themselves; or keeping an eye on an escape route. In some cases the ‘safety behaviour’ is to avoid the situation altogether. Whilst these behaviours feel to the person as if they are helping to keep them safe, they actually help to maintain, and in some cases, worsen the phobia over time.

After a careful assessment a treatment plan will be devised collaboratively with the patient. Cognitive behaviour therapy helps the person face their fears by developing alternative and more helpful ways of responding to problem situations, rather than automatically reacting by resorting to ‘safety behaviours’. Treatment may involve assisting people to gradually test out the accuracy of their fears in a step by step approach that is developed in the therapy session.


As part of normal life, many of us feel uncomfortable or fearful of at times about certain objects or situations. If such experiences become feared and disrupt life to the point where we are unable to enter social situations or to carry out work and every day activities, this may be due to an anxiety disorder called a phobia.

A phobia is an extreme, irrational fear of an animal, object, place or situation that most people would not fear. People who have phobias either avoid the situations they fear or are intensely anxious in them. They may develop panic attacks either in the situation or at the thought of being in the situation.

There are two types of phobia - specific and complex:

  • Specific phobias are an anxiety about a single object, situation or activity. These commonly include insects, such as spiders or snakes or the environment such as fear of heights or loud noises. Sometimes specific phobias involve a situation, such as flying or using an escalator, or being in a situation that may lead to a feared event such as vomiting or choking. Specific phobias can also be a fear of blood, medical interventions (such as injections), or injury.

Complex phobias involve several anxieties. Examples include:

  • Agoraphobia – which can be a fear of opens spaces, crowds, public spaces, entering shops or travelling alone on forms of transport- is a complex phobia. Agoraphobia often occurs with panic disorder, which like a phobia is an anxiety disorder.
  • Social phobia - a fear of social or performance situations, such as a party or speaking in public. People with social phobia fear that they will behave in an unacceptable or embarrassing way that will lead others to judge them negatively.

In instances where the persons phobia involves situations or objects that are difficult to avoid in every day life, their avoidance can lead to daily activities becoming increasingly limited, leading ultimately to depression.


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Amanda Farr

Amanda Farr

Postgraduate Diploma (Cognitive Therapy), Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist, State Registered Occupational Therapist... Read More

What Is CBT?

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy that looks at how you think about yourself, the world and other people, and... Read more


All discussions that take place in your therapy sessions are treated as confidential...


What are Phobias?

As part of normal life, many of us feel uncomfortable or fearful of at times about certain objects or situations. If such experiences become...