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Ophidiophobia

Fear of Snakes

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Updated November 21, 2008

The fear of snakes is possibly the most common subcategory of herpetophobia, or fear of reptiles. Some researchers believe that the fear may be evolutionary, developed by our ancestors as a survival mechanism. This theory, however, would not explain why snake phobias are relatively common, while fears of predatory animals, such as tigers, are rare. More recent research shows that while the tendency to pay close attention to snakes may be evolutionary, the actual fear is learned rather than innate.

Symptoms of Ophidiophobia

The fear of snakes can be tricky to diagnose, as symptoms can vary widely between sufferers. If you have mild ophidiophobia, you may fear only encounters with large or venomous snakes. If your phobia is more severe, you may be afraid of smaller snakes as well. You may even be unable to look at photographs or television shows in which snakes appear.

It is important to distinguish between ophidiophobia and herpetophobia. If you are also afraid of lizards, from small geckos to six-foot Komodo dragons, then your phobia is more properly termed herpetophobia.

Your symptoms may include, but are not limited to, shaking, crying or running away from snakes. You may experience heart palpitations or have difficulty breathing. You may find it difficult or even impossible to remain in the same room as a snake.

Effects of Ophidiophobia

Ophidiophobia can be insidious. Over time, you may begin to fear things that are not directly related to snakes themselves. For example, you may become afraid of pet stores that offer snakes for sale. You may avoid camping or hiking trips, or even zoos and nature preserves. You may also develop a secondary fear of other reptiles.

Diagnosing Ophidiophobia

It is normal to be nervous or unsure around unfamiliar animals. In addition, there are a number of common myths about snakes. If you have never handled one, you may be nervous that it will be slimy or disgusting or afraid that you will be crushed by a constrictor. These fears are common and can be dispelled simply by gaining more personal knowledge about the animals. The symptoms listed above, on the other hand, are out of proportion to normal nervousness and may indicate an actual phobia. Only a mental health professional, though, can make that determination.

Treating Ophidiophobia

The most common treatments for snake phobia are based on cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. You may be encouraged to talk about your fear and taught new messages to replace your fearful self-talk. You may also be slowly exposed to snakes, beginning with photographs and gradually building up to a live encounter with a small snake in a controlled environment. Hypnosis is sometimes used to assist in relaxation.

Fortunately, ophidiophobia has an excellent chance for successful treatment. It is important, though, to choose a therapist that you feel you can trust to help you through this process. For more information, see Choosing a Therapist.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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