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Treatment Options for Phobias

Learn Your Options for Treating Phobias

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Updated February 08, 2009

Researchers are still unclear on exactly what causes phobias. The latest studies show that there is likely a complex interaction of factors including genetics, brain chemistry, environmental triggers and learned behavior. Consequently, the most successful treatments typically address more than one of these factors. There are currently two major theories on how best to treat phobias, based on differing beliefs about the nature of mental illness.

Medication

The medical model places emphasis on the genetic and brain chemistry components of phobias. Medications are prescribed to balance the chemicals in the brain. There are currently several types of medication that are prescribed for phobias.

In most states, psychologists are not permitted to prescribe medications, although this is slowly changing. However, no mental health practitioner with less than a doctoral degree is permitted to prescribe medication in any state. Those who choose to use medications to treat their phobias must visit a psychiatrist or other doctor for medication management, even if they also see a therapist.

Therapy

Many professionals believe that the most important causes of phobias are the environmental triggers and learned behaviors. They argue that a phobia is ultimately a learned response to a stimulus. By “unlearning” the response and substituting rational reactions, the phobia can be cured. This model favors therapy as a preferred treatment.

Many phobia sufferers are best treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Most psychiatrists do not perform the types of therapy best suited to phobia treatment. Therefore, psychiatrists and therapists often form referral networks to help clients meet both needs. Mental health centers often have a range of mental health specialists on staff, offering their clients a one-stop solution.

Alternative Treatments

Increasingly, mental health professionals and patients are turning to alternative treatments to augment traditional means of treating phobias. Although these treatments have not undergone the rigorous, controlled testing necessary for endorsement by the mainstream medical community, many people find symptom relief through alternative channels. Of course, any alternative treatment should only be undertaken with guidance from a mental health professional.
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