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Specific Phobias: Types, Diagnosis, Causes, and Treatment

Specific phobias
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Umar Javed



Specific phobias are disorders characterized by extreme, overwhelming, and irrational fears of living creatures, places, situations, or objects. These specific phobias are persistent and cause mental and physical reactions. Phobias disrupt the normal life of a person.

According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R) prevalence rates data, approximately 12.5% [1*] of U.S. adults have had a specific disorder at some point in life.

According to DSM-5 [2*] , specific disorders tend to occur alongside other mental disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and substance use disorder. The phobias also elevate suicidal ideations. Fortunately, it is possible to treat and manage these psychiatric disorders. Psychotherapy, pharmacological treatment, or a combination of the two treatments can help a patient with phobias live a productive life.

Phobias may prevent you from living the calm life you want. Consult a doctor to overcome your condition.

Specific Phobia: DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria

It is natural to have common fears or anxiety in some situations, like giving a public speech. There is a difference between these short-lived symptoms and phobias.

All phobias have common characteristics, so the following criteria should be met to make a diagnosis:

  • A person goes out of his/her way to avoid the source of the phobia.
  • An encounter with an object or situation always causes extreme distress.
  • Extreme and immediate response when presented with the source of fear.
  • An encounter with the source of phobia triggers out-of-proportion, irrational, and persistent fear not representative of the actual threat.
  • The disorder disrupts a patient’s daily life.
  • A doctor rules out other disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or agoraphobia as the cause of the phobia.
  • The specific phobia symptoms have lasted for at least six months.

Types of Specific Phobias

There are five types of different specific phobias [3*] , as explained below:

  1. Situational phobias. Specific circumstances trigger the anxiety. These could be phobias like:
    • Acrophobia (fear of heights)
    • Claustrophobia (fear of being in confined or constricted spaces)
    • Gephyrophobia (fear of bridges and tunnels)
  2. Animal or living creature phobias. These are fears triggered by insects, animals, or other living creatures. Some options in the list of phobias in this case include:
    • Entomophobia (fear of insects)
    • Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
    • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
  3. Environmental phobias. These are fears of natural features or natural occurrences such as:
    • Aquaphobia (fear of water)
    • Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning)
    • Nyctophobia (fear of the dark)
  4. Injury type of phobias. Physical harm, injury, or blood triggers such as:
    • Dentophobia (fear of dentists)
    • Trypanophobia (fear of needles)
    • Hemophobia (fear of blood)
  5. Uncategorized phobias. The phobias do not fit in the other four clusters. These are fears of experiences or situations like:
    • Emetophobia (fear of vomiting)
    • Hypochondria (fear of getting sick)
    • Trypophobia (fear of holes)
A therapist will help identify the root causes of your condition and will tell you how to manage it effectively.

Causes of Specific Phobias

Several factors can contribute to the development of the disorders, including:

  • Brain functioning. Changes in brain functions may ignite the development of phobias.
  • Genetic and environmental factors. It is possible to inherit phobias from the family lines. A person living with people who have specific disorders is likely to learn the same behaviors.
  • Past experiences. Most phobias develop from negative experiences. For example, a snake bite encounter may ignite ophidiophobia.
  • Temperament. People with personality traits of neuroticism and behavioral inhibition are more likely to develop such disorders.
Types of phobias

Treatment and Management of Specific Phobias

Since most people with phobias are aware of their disorder, specific phobia treatment and management are often successful. The treatment is usually tailor-made to suit a patient’s case, and psychotherapy is the first-line choice.

Psychotherapy Interventions

Various therapeutic approaches are used to treat specific phobias. The most common interventions include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT [4*] helps a patient confront and understand the irrational reactions to the source of their phobia. The therapist helps the person cope with their thoughts and feelings.

  • Behavioral/Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy [5*] helps patients to cope with their phobias by exposing a person to the object of their fear in a series of gradual and escalating phases.

Sometimes, a doctor may recommend a combination of psychotherapy and medical treatment for the best results.

Connect with a prescriber to know what medication will work best for you and get prescription online.

Medication Treatment

Effective pharmacological treatments include:

  • Antidepressants such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) help to balance serotonin levels. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that regulates a patient’s mood. Tricyclic antidepressants such as Anafranil or Clomipramine are also used to treat some phobias.
  • Beta-blockers reduce physical reactions to a phobia.
  • Benzodiazepines reduce anxiety symptoms.

Specific phobia medication may have mild or severe adverse reactions in the patient. In case of severe side effects, a patient should seek a medical review from the doctor.


Specific phobias are common disorders that may hamper a person’s everyday life. Still, they are easy to diagnose since patients are aware of their problems, and treatment is usually successful. If you find yourself struggling with any phobia, contact MEDvidi doctors to get treatment and live a productive life.


5 sources
  1. Specific Phobia
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  2. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR)
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  3. Specific phobias
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  4. Effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy on brain activation in specific phobia. (2006)
    Source link
  5. Factors influencing the success of exposure therapy for specific phobia: A systematic review. (2020)
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Umar Javed



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