How to beat phobias

Phobias are a fear of a specific object or thing, such as spiders, snakes, needles, closed spaces and social situations (Greenberger & Padesky, 1995; Hawton and others., 1989). They are very common and they can sometimes be very difficult to manage because of the anxiety reaction that they can cause in our body (Hawton and others., 1989).

For example if someone had a fear of snakes their body would see it as a threat which would result in the fight/flight/freeze response which would increase our heart rate, use up all of our food resources in our stomach, make us sweat more and can make us feel shaky (Kennerley, 2009). These bodily reactions can be very frightening for some of us were we may catastrophically misinterpret them and believe that we are having a heart attack and that we may die, which is linked with panic attacks (Hawton et al., 1989).

There are some things that you can do that may help:

1. Remember that these are natural bodily reactions and that they will pass - anxiety often passes quickly because it exhausts our body (Kennerley, 2009).

2. If you want to overcome the phobia try the follow:
- draw up a 10 point chart, with 10 being the most anxiety provoking thing with the fear (e.g. if you have a fear of spiders then holding a tarantula would be the most frightening) and 1 being the least anxiety provoking (e.g. looking at a picture of a spider). For example:

10. Holding a big spider in my hand
9. Holding a small spider in my hand.
8. Being in the same room as a big spider.
7. Being in the same room as a small spider.
6. Being close to a big spider looking at it through a window.
5. Being close to a small spider.
4. Looking at videos of big spiders.
3. Looking at a video of a small spider.
2. Looking at a picture of a big spider.
1. Looking at a picture of a small spider

- Then, using a similar chart, allow yourself to experience small doses of the anxiety as you move up the chart. The idea is that your body and you will get used to the anxiety and the presence of the object/thing you fear so that it will no longer be frightening. This is known as graded exposure or systematic desensitisation (Hawton and others 1989; Kennerley, 2009). This is something that you could try on your own if is a specific thing such as spiders but for more complex phobias such as neddle phobia or fear of closed spaces I would seek the support of someone from this website.


Greenberger, D., Padesky, C. (1995). Mind Over Mood Change How you Feel By Changing the Way you Think.

Hawton, K., Salkovskis, P.M., Kirk, J., Clark, D. M. (1989). Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Psychiatric Problems A Practical Guide. Oxford University Press.

Kennerley, H. (2009). Overcoming Anxiety. Robinson publishers.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 3YD
Written by Dr Jonathan Hutchins
St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 3YD

I am a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who offers online sessions to help to change your life. I provide a confidential and empathic space to help people to address and overcome their concerns. I have extensive training and experience in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and I am a Consultant on...


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