Agoraphobia and Social Phobia are both generalised phobias which are often connected and can lead to isolation. They differ from specific phobias (such as fear of snakes or spiders) in that they are made up of a ‘cluster’ of phobias and often involve panic attacks. It is thought that up to 5% of the population suffers with some form of social phobia.
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Individuals suffering from agoraphobia often fear open spaces, crowds, public places and/or travelling alone. Sufferers may avoid unfamiliar/public places where they perceive they have little control. Agoraphobia is more common in females and usually begins in the late 20’s. Often it accompanies low self-esteem and worry about being able to cope alone.
Social Phobia often develops in adolescence, possibly from early shyness, and can lead to isolation. Both conditions can lead to ‘avoidant’ behaviour, where the person plans their life around avoiding uncomfortable situations which might trigger anxiety or panic attacks. This in turn increases the problem and can reduce the chance of seeking help.
In severe cases, sufferers may become confined to their own homes to avoid the anxiety associated with not feeling in control. However, treatment is available and highly effective to help individuals understand their feelings and how to cope with them.
Common symptoms for sufferers include:
- Avoiding places, crowds and situations
- Panic attacks
- Chest pain
- Fear of dying
- Difficulty breathing
- Fear of losing control
- Fast heart beat
Specific Phobia is an extreme fear of an object or situation that poses little or no actual danger. Sufferers know their fear is irrational, but they cannot control or overcome it. Facing their feared object or situation, or even just thinking about facing it, brings on severe anxiety or a panic attack.
Some common examples are closed-in places, spiders or a fear of flying. It is a fear of a particular thing rather than just extreme fear. These phobias usually begin early in the person's life and continue into adulthood. There is also evidence that the phobias may run in families.
Common symptoms for sufferers include:
- Profuse sweating
- Racing heart
Research suggests that phobias run in families and there may be some genetic link or shared behavioural patterns as well as individual factors. More ...
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a common treatment for phobias, as it helps individuals to reconsider their way of processing situations and can help them to find ways to deal with situations. Psychotherapy can help explore some of the complex underlying causes of the anxiety, group therapy may help too. Drug treatments that act on levels of and serotonin in the brain may also be an option.
When is the right time to seek help?
Generally with any form of anxiety, the earlier help is sought the better as avoidance behaviour often makes the problem more complex and disruptive to the individual’s normal life. When behaviour is affected, for example if a person cannot meet with friends or take up employment because of the anxieties of leaving the home, the problem must be addressed. Treatment and help are often highly effective for these disorders. More ...
Phobia statistics: More statistics »
The Office for National Statistics found that 1.9 per cent of adults in Britain experience phobias. In this study, it is shown that women are twice as likely as men to experience phobias. Other studies show widely differing rates: one author quotes two community surveys - one in Canada, giving a prevalence rate of 7.7 per cent; and another very large US survey, giving a rate of 13.3 per cent. (Statistics from Mind.org.uk)
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Whilst there are currently no official rules and regulations in position to stipulate what level of training and experience a counsellor dealing with phobias should have, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
In regards to psychological treatment NHS Choices suggest cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and/or desensitisation to help overcome the phobia.
Find out more on the NHS Choices website.
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Content written/edited by Denise Pickup BACP (Accred) in 2008. All content displayed on Counselling Directory is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
Whilst we endeavor to ensure all information is accurate, Counselling Directory make no representations or warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information included within the website. Any dependence you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.
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- From the Savannah to Sussex: Living with Anxiety
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- How to beat phobias
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