Did you know that phobias are one of the most common mental health disorders in the U.S.? According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 18% of people have phobias, an overwhelming and debilitating fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. This form of anxiety, along with the depression it can lead to, is a common focus of psychologists in therapy.
How does this happen? Let’s make up an example: as a boy, “Joe” became stuck in an elevator in a tall building. Others in the elevator panicked and began screaming and even fighting to get out. Joe was convinced that he was going to die. It was hours before they were rescued.
Fast-forward to 10 years later. Joe is developing a successful career in his own small home town. However, with several kids and unexpected expenses, Joe and his wife are going under, financially. With some searching, Joe was able to find a high-paying job in his field, in a nearby city. Unfortunately, his office would be on the 15th floor, accessible only by elevator. (You see the problem).
What can Joe do? He sees a clinical psychologist, and they get to work. Relaxation training could help, but Joe must start work soon. The psychologist has Joe take a number of steps, in his imagination, known as in vitro exposure. Joe gets relaxed in a comfortable chair, closes his eyes, and imagines standing across the street from the building. He continues until he feels calm. Next, he imagines standing at the door to the building, in the lobby of the building, next to the elevator, getting on and off the elevator, riding up one floor, riding several floors, and then to the 15th floor, successfully.
Next, Joe takes the same steps, but in reality. This is known as in vivo exposure. This phase requires a couple of precious days, but by the end of the second day Joe visits his new office. He is sweaty and somewhat shaky, but successful. His wife is happy.
This same process has been used with many specific phobias such as snakes, spiders, heights, bridges, planes, and crowds.
Want to see how you score? Try: https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/rm-quiz-fears-phobias
Rollin S Rhodes PhD Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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Disclaimer – This site is for informational and educational purposes only. The information is not intended to assess, diagnose, or treat any medical or mental health condition. Reading these articles does not constitute a patient-therapist relationship. Any decisions or actions taken by a reader are fully the responsibility of the reader. If therapy is required, see a qualified licensed provider. If there is a risky or emergency situation, contact your provider, Emergency Room, or call 988.