Phobia (ABCT Fact Sheet)

A phobia can be defined as a fear and/or avoidance of an object, activity, or situation that the individual knows is out of proportion to the actual danger that object, activity, or situation poses. Phobias are one of the most widespread mental disorders, with estimates ranging from 10% to 30% of the population reporting a fear severe enough to disturb some aspect of their functioning. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual phobic disorders fall into three types, based on the nature of the object or situation that produces the fear:

  1. Simple phobias involve a fear of particular objects or situations, such as heights, the dark, moths, or small spaces.
  2. Social phobias involve a fear of being watched or evaluated by others and a belief that the individual will, in some way, appear foolish. This results in avoidance of such situations as eating in front of others or going to parties or meetings.
  3. Agoraphobia involves a fear of being unable to escape quickly or reach help in the event of sudden incapacitation, commonly a panic attack. Specifically, therefore, agoraphobia involves a fear of a wide variety of situations that the individual believes will either increase the likelihood of incapacitation or reduce the chance of reaching help should incapacitation occur. These situations include going to malls, using public transport, and generally being alone.

Agoraphobia is usually thought to be the most crippling phobic disorder, and simple phobia the least. People suffering with phobias can also have problems with chronic anxiety and depression. Simple phobias often begin in childhood; social phobias in the late teens; and agoraphobia in the mid-20’s. Phobias appear to be more common in females than in males, although social phobia seems to be fairly evenly divided.

A publication from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies


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