The Fear Factor: Phobias
From aviophobia, the fear of flying, to zelophobia, the fear of jealousy, the list of phobias that harrow the human mind runs long.
Fear No More continued...
As the person became anxious, the stimulus would be removed,
and he would be allowed to relax. Then they would start over again -- but up
the ante and go one step further.
"Now, we are much more provocative in treating people with
phobias," says Wilson. "Using cognitive-behavioral treatment, instead
of allowing a person to relax after being exposed to the stimulus, we teach
them how to manage their feelings."
The American Psychological Association defines
cognitive-behavioral modification as "a therapeutic approach that combines
the cognitive emphasis on the role of thoughts and attitudes influencing
motivations and response with the behavioral emphasis on changing performance
through modification of reinforcement contingencies."
Simply, if you change the way you think, it will change the way
you act, and if you change the way you act, it will change the way you
"One of the shifts I've been making is to have people with
phobias work on the attitudes they carry with them," says Wilson. "It's
a game against the phobia: Invite the feelings that make you fearful and
anxious and learn to tolerate them, setting aside relaxation as a core piece of
treatment and using intensity instead -- that's the fastest way to get
It's also using more than one technique to solve the
"Not all therapists stick to one treatment doctrine or
another," says Hoganbruen. "Many combine several different techniques
-- systemic desensitization, behavioral therapies, cognitive behavioral
therapies -- into a treatment regimen."
Treating Phobias With Technology
The treatment of phobias is going high-tech as well, with
virtual reality being used as a tool in helping people overcome their
"Virtual reality is the other newer treatment being used
for phobias," says Wilson. "It's three to four years away from being
used on a broad basis because the equipment is so expensive to use, but there
are four or five places in the U.S. that are using it today."
The University of Washington is one institution that uses
virtual reality (VR), coupled with real life, in treating phobias. According to
a news release, "Researchers at the University of Washington's Human
Interface Technology Lab measured aversion and anxiety responses of students,
some of whom had a clinical phobia of spiders, before and after undergoing VR
therapy. During the therapy, some of the subjects touched a realistic model of
a large spider while grasping a virtual one."
The combination of fact with fiction worked: Those students
were able to come twice as close to a real spider after completing three
therapy sessions, and reported a greater decrease in anxiety during treatment,
than those who underwent VR therapy alone.