A phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it. There are several types of phobias. Some people cannot bear to be in certain social situations while others have a specific phobia such as a fear of snakes, escalators or hospitals. Not every phobia requires treatment; however, if a phobia affects daily living, it is time to seek help.


There is little known about the cause of phobias. Specialists suggest phobias can be genetic or a learned behavior acquired by watching the reaction of others.

Phobias are divided into three categories:

  • Specific phobias

    a specific phobia is an irrational, persistent fear of a specific object, situation or creature that is magnified in comparison to the actual risk. Phobias such as fear of flying, fear of being in an enclosed space or fear of thunderstorms would fall into this category. Others include:

    • Animals or insects such as cats or spiders
    • Blood
    • Injection
    • Injury
    • Knives
    • Medical procedures
    • Loud noises
    • Clowns

    There are many, many more phobias and it is not unusual for a person to suffer from more than one.

  • Social phobia

    Social phobia causes a person to feel excessively self-conscious and dread any kind of public scrutiny, fearing rejection or judgment from others.

  • Agoraphobia

    The primary symptom of agoraphobia is anxiety about being in, or anticipating being in situations from which escape might be difficult, especially if a panic attack occurs. Fears typically include:

    • Using public transportation such as cars, buses, trains, ships or planes
    • Being in open spaces such as parking lots, marketplaces or bridges
    • Being in enclosed spaces such as shops, theaters or restaurants
    • Standing in line or being in a crowd
    • Being outside of the home alone

    A person who experiences agoraphobia will go to great lengths to restrict travel and change their daily routines. Agoraphobics will often seek a companion when leaving home to assist them in coping. For some people, agoraphobia may be so profound that they are unable to leave home at all.

No matter the type of phobia, the reactions are the same:

  • Uncontrollable panic when exposed to the source of the phobia
  • Avoidance of the source of the fear
  • Inability to function due to anxiety
  • Physical symptoms such as sweating, accelerated heart rate and difficulty breathing
  • Knowing the fears are unreasonable yet feeling unable to control the fear
  • Thinking about the fear

Risk factors

  • Age: Social phobia usually develops early in life, typically by age 13. Specific phobias appear before age 10. Agoraphobia usually appears in the late teens and before the age of 35
  • A person’s relatives: Those with a family member or relative with a specific phobia, are more likely to develop it also. This may be inherited or acquired by observing the reactions of others
  • Temperament: A sensitive, more inhibited or more negative person is at increased risk
  • Trauma: Experiencing a traumatic event such as an animal attack or being trapped in an elevator may trigger a phobia

Some therapists use exposure therapy as part of treatment for a phobia. Exposure therapy combined with relaxation exercises and/or imagery gradually exposes patients to what frightens them and helps them cope with their fears. Exposing someone to their fears or prior traumas without the client first learning the accompanying coping techniques, such as relaxation or imagery exercises, can result in a person being re-traumatized by the event or fear. Therefore, exposure therapy is typically conducted by a trained and experienced therapist.

Following an initial doctor visit which usually generates a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other qualified clinician, a center for anxiety treatment can further cater to the patient’s needs. The following is a list of what a reputable center for stress and anxiety treatment center should offer:

  • Willingness to answer any questions
  • Thorough assessment upon admission
  • Diagnosis and treatment of underlying conditions. This is referred to as dual diagnosis and includes conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and substance abuse. All conditions must be treated concurrently to achieve the best outcome
  • Individual and group therapy. Individual therapy is private and non-judgmental and incorporates cognitive behavioral therapy which teaches the redirection of thought processes leading to a healthier outcome. Group therapy is beneficial in the sharing of experiences leading to recovery
  • Therapeutic group activities
  • Comfortable patient accommodations
  • Continuing care following treatment
  • An alumni program for support and encouragement
  • An individualized treatment plan
  • Cognitive therapy and brain mapping. Brain wellness is essential for recovery and this technology allows a technician to assess areas of the brain which require improvement over time

Most inpatient anxiety treatment centers accept major health plan insurance, making the treatment affordable.

For further information, please call Anxiety Treatment Centers of California at 855-972-9459.