Phobias are an intense fear of something that does not deserve that type of fear response. Common phobias include spiders, snakes, driving, germs, having a panic attack in public, and heights. Almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured. One tool that is useful for controlling phobias is exposure therapy.
What is exposure therapy?
Origins of exposure therapy are based on studies that show that the human brain decreases responses that no longer produce the expected reaction aka "extinction". When we are forced to confront a fear for a long enough period of time, our minds essentially adapt to this fear to the point where we stop finding it stressful.
How does it work?
Exposure therapy starts with desensitization. Let's say you have a phobia of spiders. You are deathly afraid of spiders, to the point where you avoid them or run away when you see them.
The steps to reduce this fear may be as follows:
- You first imagine a spider until the thought no longer produces a fear response
- You then look at images of spiders until that no longer evokes fear
- Next, you would put yourself in the same room as a tank with a spider in it
- You may finally touch the spider
Anyone that has a fear of spiders is probably aware how frightening it would be to jump to the last step. But using exposure therapy, over time each step will be easier until you reach the final step and fully overcome your fear response. You can use the above steps with nearly every type of phobia.