Learn to Address Your Phobias, Says Psychology Professor


Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that elicit a strong fear response within people toward certain objects or things that typically would pose as no real threat or danger. A psychology expert on campus addressed the disorder in the following Q&A.

Photo Courtesy of Marwa Azab's Facebook profile. 

Photo Courtesy of Marwa Azab's Facebook profile. 

Marwa Azab is an adjunct professor in the psychology department at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) who teaches topics such as psychobiology, neuropsychology, social psychology and psychology of stress. She also has a blog on the Psychology Today website entitled "Neuroscience in Everyday Life."

Azab answered a few questions about phobias to inform those affected or aware of the disorder.

Why do some of us have phobias? What causes it?

“Phobia is under the more general umbrella [of] anxiety disorders. We all have fears of certain situations, people or things. When this fear becomes irrational and exaggerated, it might turn into a phobia. A person that struggles with a phobia will structure their whole day with great effort to avoid that object, person or situation.

Phobias typically start in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. The causes depend on whether the phobia is simple or complex. Simple phobias such as fear of heights (acrophobia) or fear of confined places (claustrophobia) are usually caused by a negative childhood experience. However, scientists believe that complex phobias such as agoraphobia and social phobia have some genetic bases.”

How do you know if you have a phobia?

“If you reorganize your day to avoid the stimulus of fear, or cancel events to avoid it, or cannot get a job because of this fear.”

What are the different types of phobias? Common ones? Rare or unique ones?

“There are three main categories of phobia: Specific (simple) phobias focus on specific objects; social phobia (social anxiety disorder) causes extreme anxiety in social or public situations; agoraphobia [leads to] the fear of being alone in public places from which there is no easy escape.

Specific (simple) phobias are the most common. Examples of common ones include fear of heights, snakes and spiders. Less common phobias include fear of clowns, rain, falling asleep, the color yellow, belly buttons and holes. A term that was coined only a few years ago is ‘Nomonphobia,’ which means fear of being without mobile phone coverage.”

Is it something that should be treated or addressed? How do you cope with it?

“The typical treatment involves exposure to the feared stimulus. In one type, called flooding, the patient is immersed in the phobic stimulus itself until the fear response fades. If the phobia is very strong, the patient is asked to imagine the phobic stimulus instead of actually experiencing it. In counter-conditioning, the fear stimulus is paired with a relaxing one, in the hopes of eventually extinguishing the fear response.

Sometimes, the phobia is incurable, and therapy is focused on increasing functioning and not completely abolishing the phobia.”

What would you tell someone who has a phobia or has some type of anxiety about having one?

“I would tell them that this is a real disorder that evokes physiological responses that don't feel good. Their fear is irrational. What they are going through can be explained. I would urge them to seek help with this disorder and to at least learn how to not let the phobia affect their school, work and relationships.”