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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 Itself continued...

"Fear of flying, in recent times, has become more common," says Hoganbruen. "Since 9/11, it has come up much more than it did in the past."

Then there are social phobias, which include the fear of public speaking, the fear of test taking, or the fear of people, in general.

According to, which catalogues hundreds of tormenting phobias, people suffer from the fear of the number 8, or octophobia, and the fear of 13, triskaidekaphobia; the fear of noise, or acousticophobia; the fear of ventriloquists dummies or wax statues, or automatonophobia; the fear of sitting down, or kathisophobia; and the fear of beautiful women, or venustraphobia.

How can a person possibly be treated for the fear of all that is the number 8 -- eight french fries on a plate, eight words in a sentence, eight on the jersey of a football player?

Fear No More

"People are generally not treated for phobias," says Wilson. "A very small percentage -- 6% of people with a phobia -- go in for treatment, in part because they are not totally disabled by it, so they find their way around."

Not before a person's phobia is extremely severe do they seek help, Wilson explains to WebMD.

"The treatment that was most common in the past was called systematic desensitization," says Wilson. "It was a pretty standard treatment -- people were taught to relax and in that relaxed state, in a hierarchical way, they would have increased degrees of exposure to their fear."

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 think.

"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 better."

It's also using more than one technique to solve the problem.

"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."

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