Treating Phobic Anxiety Disorders

Phobias are a serious problem in the United States, where as many as 19 million people are affected by a phobia of some sort.[i] 

However, there’s good news when it comes to these disorders: treatment for anxiety and phobic disorders is available and it has also been shown to be highly effective. 

In this article, we will cover some basic information about phobias, including the most common phobia types and explaining how they are treated at the Drake Institute. 

What are Phobias?

 Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder characterized by an excessive and irrational fear of an object, activity, or situation. 

For afflicted individuals, this fear is not only irrational but also uncontrollable, leading the individual to avoid social interactions and situations where they might encounter the object or activity. 

As a result of this behavioral pattern, afflicted individuals may become isolated from their peers, friends, and even their own family because despite knowing their fear is irrational, the threat of an anxiety or panic attack or just extreme fear is too much for them to manage on their own. 

Types of Phobias 

While there are many types of phobias (e.g., fear of snakes, fear of flying, fear of public speaking, etc.), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) sorts these phobias into 3 distinct types: Specific Phobias, Social Phobias, and Agoraphobias. 

Specific Phobia 

A Specific Phobia is a fear reaction in response to a specific object or situation (e.g., fear of spiders), that creates an intense and irrational fear of being harmed. 

Indeed, this reaction can become so intense, that even the anticipation of encountering the item or saying the item’s name out loud can cause crippling bouts of anxiety and stress. 

Other kinds of Specific Phobias include the following: 

  • Animal phobias (e.g., fear of snakes, insects, etc.)
  • Situational phobias (e.g., fear of a specific situation such as flying, closed-in spaces, etc.)
  • Natural environment phobias (e.g., fear of heights, storms, etc.)
  • Blood-injection-injury phobias (e.g., fear of injury, blood, etc.) 

Social Phobia 

Social Phobias, like social anxiety disorder, create an intense fear of being humiliated or of “underperforming” in social situations. Common forms of social phobias include a fear of public speaking, restrooms, and eating in front of others.   

Agoraphobia 

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that leads afflicted individuals to believe that their current environment is unsafe and that they need to escape. This fear can include situations in which an individual will fear open spaces, public places, or even leaving their own home. 

In some cases, the fear and anxiety of being in a location deemed “dangerous” is so intense that the individual will experience panic attacks and even refuse to leave their home. 

Phobia Symptoms 

Phobias can cause afflicted individuals to experience a range of physical symptoms, some of which are listed below: 

  • Uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, dread, and panic
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Trembling, shaking
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Tightening of the chest and feelings of choking
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Hot or cold flashes
  • An overwhelming desire to escape 

Indeed, many afflicted individuals find these symptoms to be extremely debilitating and life-altering, as simply stepping outside of their home can result in an anxiety-induced panic attack. 

If left untreated, phobic disorders are likely to lead to other issues, like depression and substance abuse. 

Anxiety & Phobias: What's the Connection? 

Anxiety and stress are among the main catalysts for phobia development in both children and young adults. 

What Causes Phobias? 

In many cases, phobias develop as a result of a childhood experience that was either frightening or overly stressful; however, it’s also possible for a phobia to develop later in life, especially when an individual is dealing with the stress of transitioning into adolescence or early adulthood. 

Additionally, phobias can be “inherited” from a parent or close family member; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a “phobia trait” was passed on to the offspring. Children will often mimic the behavioral patterns of their parents, so if the parent has a fear of interacting with people (e.g., a neighbor knocking on the door), the child will often internalize this process and behave in a similar, if not identical manner. 

Phobias can be identified as either “simple” or “complex” phobias. Simple phobias involve fear of a single object, situation, or activity, such as the fear of spiders, heights, etc. Simple phobias can often be traced back to an identifiable event or events that caused their development. 

In contrast, complex phobias involve several anxieties, such as social phobias or agoraphobias. The complexities of these phobias which involve multiple fears make it difficult to identify a specific reason or situation responsible for their development. In the case of complex phobias, most researchers believe that they are caused by some combination of life experiences, brain chemistry, and genetics. 

Phobia Treatment: Can Phobias Be Cured? 

Luckily, phobic disorders are highly treatable, and since afflicted individuals are typically acutely aware of their disorder, the diagnosis process is typically straight-forward.   

For most individuals, the prescribed treatment usually encompasses behavioral therapy, medications like Zoloft, or some combination of the two approaches. 

However, at the Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine, we believe there is a better way. 

The Drake Institute Can Help 

Since 1980, the Drake Institute has been successfully treating patients for their anxiety disorder symptoms. 

By using Biofeedback in conjunction with brain-map guided Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation, the Drake Institute is able to create non-drug treatment protocols custom-tailored to each patient’s specific needs and requirements. 

In addition to these advanced treatment methodologies, the Drake Institute also utilizes Heart Rate Variability training to improve the homeostasis or balanced functioning of the autonomic nervous system. 

During Bio- or Neurofeedback, the physiologic recordings are provided back to the patient instantaneously through auditory and/or visual feedback, which enables the patient to reduce and potentially eliminate their tension through achieving deep relaxation, creating healthy homeostasis and physiological balance. This deep relaxation may not be possible without the physiologic feedback provided from the instruments. 

Once the physiological tension is reduced, the anxiety symptoms begin to reduce as well. For example, if a patient is dealing with tension headaches, the process of Bio- or Neurofeedback can assist with lowering the individual’s blood pressure and allows them to release the abnormal muscle tension that that carry in their face and head, subsequently causing the headaches to dissipate.    

During Neurofeedback and Neuromodulation therapy, the focus of treatment shifts towards improving the brain’s regulation to more normal patterns and balance which reduces the anxiety. With treatment, symptoms related to phobic disorders can be improved over time by shifting out of the patient’s “fight or flight” state to the healing or recovery mode state, which dramatically reduces the phobia’s underlying anxiety symptoms. 

Best of all, because the Drake Institute’s treatment protocols do not rely on medication or other invasive procedures, patients can enjoy long-term symptom reduction due to an improved ability to self-regulate, and in some cases, the symptoms never return at all. 

Contact the Drake Institute Today 

If a phobic disorder or any anxiety related disorders are significantly impacting your quality of life, please call us today to schedule a no-cost screening consultation.

  

[i] https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

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“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Behavioral Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Behavioral Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Behavioral Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Behavioral Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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