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Therapy Options for Phobias

Information About Types of Therapy Used for Phobias


Updated February 08, 2009

Phobias are commonly treated by a therapist. The exact methods used, however, may vary between therapists. Here is a look at some common types of therapy that are used to treat phobias.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is possibly the most common form of phobia therapy today. CBT is based on the interconnectedness of thoughts, beliefs, feelings and behaviors.

According to the principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy, a phobia sufferer believes that the feared situation is inherently dangerous. This belief leads to negative automatic thoughts that occur as soon as the feared situation is encountered. The automatic thoughts lead to a phobic behavioral reaction.

Techniques that are commonly used in cognitive-behavioral therapy are drawn from the schools of behaviorism and learning theory as well as the school of cognitive theory.

Behavioral techniques that may be used as part of CBT include flooding and systematic desensitization. Cognitive techniques include cognitive reframing and psychoeducational techniques.

Group Therapy

Group therapy may incorporate many different types of therapy that can be administered in a group setting. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is possibly the most common type of group therapy for phobias, although any form of therapy may be performed in a group setting.

Many group cognitive-behavioral therapy sessions for phobias are advertised as seminars. A group of nervous flyers, for example, may assemble at an airport hotel for the weekend. A combination of psychoeducational classes and exposure sessions inside the airport may be performed.

Individual Therapy

Any type of therapy can be performed in an individual one on one setting. Individual therapy allows the therapist and client to focus on each other, building a rapport and working together to solve the client's issue.

Some types of therapy focus on deconstructing the personality in order to trace the roots of the phobia. Psychoanalysis, pioneered by Sigmund Freud, is perhaps the best-known example of this type of therapy. Although these therapies can be used in a group or family setting, they are often performed one on one.

Extensive psychotherapy is rarely used to treat phobias today, primarily due to the expense and time commitment involved. Psychoanalysis and related therapies may progress for months or even years, while brief therapies such as CBT can produce results in just a few sessions.

Family Therapy

If the therapist feels that the client’s family situation may have contributed to the development or progression of the phobia, then family therapy may be used as part of treatment.

Family therapy may take several different forms, and utilize techniques from any or all of the various forms of therapy. A particularly common application of family therapy places the therapist in the role of facilitating one or more communication sessions between the family members. Family therapy is commonly used in treating children with phobias, but may be used in treating adults as well.

Many therapists use a combination of therapy techniques to treat phobias. Medications may be prescribed as well. Your therapist will design a unique treatment plan to meet your needs.


Phobias: Treatment. Mayo Clinic. February 13, 2008. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/phobias/DS00272/DSECTION=7

Hobbis, Imogen and Sutton, Stephen. "Are Techniques Used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Applicable to Behaviour Change Interventions Based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour?". Journal of Health Psychology. 2005. Vol 10(1). March 30, 2008.

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