When is cognitive behavioral therapy most effective?
Researchers have found specific phobias are most effectively and quickly treated with exposure-based cognitive behavior therapy exercises. For example, to treat the fear of spiders, a condition known as arachnophobia, Yusko might ask a patient to simply start looking at photos of spiders and, when fear lessens, move to a video of cartoon images of spiders. Next, spider exposure could include watching the movie “Arachnophobia” and, finally, a visit to a pet store to stand near a cage of large spiders. The goal is to continue these exposures until the person realizes nothing bad is going to happen from seeing a spider and their phobia is conquered.
“Slowly, they work their way up to harder and harder things to confront, and at each level they are learning more and more about what’s dangerous and what’s not,” Yusko said. “So the exposure leads to learning, and it also leads to something we call habituation, which indicates that the more time you spend with something that’s not actually dangerous, your body stops producing that fear response.”
Although what a phobia is, by definition, is an irrational fear, a phobia can have serious and real consequences. A fear of flying is a case in point. It can rob a person of a career opportunity because they can’t travel for work due to their phobia. Or they may miss a family reunion or funeral because the thought of a trip by airplane sends them into panic mode.
Phobias can even result in life-threatening situations, according to Yusko. For instance a fear of doctors, iatrophobia, or the fear of needles and injections, trypanophobia, can keep people from seeking medical attention — with life or death consequences.
“These types of events start to warrant treatment,” Yusko said. “When a phobia reaches that critical interference level, it’s time for treatment, and phobias tend to be really responsive to cognitive behavior therapy.”
April 01, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN