What Are the Goals of Therapy for Phobia?

Therapeutic Goals for Phobia Treatment

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If you have begun treatment or considering treatment for a phobia, you may be wondering how to determine the goals of your treatment. What do you hope will be accomplished by addressing your phobia? What changes in your life are you hoping will take place?

The Ultimate Goal of Therapy for Phobia

The goals of therapy for phobia are to reduce or eliminate the symptoms so you can perform daily activities, including making and managing money, taking care of your household, and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships.

How Common are Phobias?

About 10 to 12 percent of Americans carry a diagnosis of a phobia. Within that number of people, however, the severity of the phobia and the impact it has on life vary tremendously. What is common, however, is that a phobia often limits people's life or prevents them from enjoying their life to the greatest degree possible.

Treatment Depends on the Type of Phobia

The type of treatment you receive depends on the type of phobia you have and the severity of your symptoms. There are three types of phobia:

  1. Agoraphobia - Agoraphobia involves a fear of situations in which you can't escape (such as leaving home, being alone at home, or being in a particular place such as a car or bus) and resultant avoidance behavior to prevent exposure to those fearful situations.
  2. Social phobia - Social phobia, now called social anxiety disorder or SAD is a very common disorder involving anxiety which is out of proportion related to social situations. Unlike normal nervousness, those with social anxiety disorder find their anxiety interferes with their relationships with others and may affect their career as well.
  1. Specific phobia - A specific phobia is well known to most people and involves an irrational fear of an object or situation. There are a multitude of different phobias such as claustrophobia (the fear of enclosed spaces) and often several different phobias occur together.

Treatment for Phobias

A good mental health professional will customize a treatment plan for you, which may include both talk therapy and medication.

A physician is more likely to add medication to an agoraphobia or social phobia treatment plan than for a specific phobia.

The Therapeutic Goals of Psychoanalysis as a Phobia Treatment

Psychoanalysis involves addressing your phobia by getting to its roots in a repressed traumatic childhood experience and the goal is to work with you to uncover it. In order for psychoanalysis to successfully resolve your phobia, you must make a commitment to the process, which may take years. 

A mental health professional is more likely to employ psychoanalysis for agoraphobia or social phobia than for a specific phobia, because you don't need to know the root cause of your fear for successful treatment.

The Goals of Exposure Therapy as a Treatment for Specific Phobia

Your treatment goals for specific phobia are likely to be met through the cognitive behavior therapy method known as exposure therapy. During this desensitization process, the therapist will gradually expose you to stimuli related to your fear in a safe and controlled environment.

You've reached your goals when your distorted thinking diminishes to a functional level or disappears. Learn about how exposure therapy works for a variety of different fears.

The Therapeutic Goals of Psychoeducation as Specific Phobia Treatment

The goal of psychoeducation is to restructure your thought patterns in order to overcome your irrational or overestimated fear and usually the first like of treatment for specific phobia. The therapist will help you learn to let your thoughts be helpful instead of debilitating. The response rate to therapeutic desensitization techniques is 80 to 90 percent.

Goals of Agoraphobia Treatment

The goals of agoraphobia treatment is to learn:

  • Your fears are not likely to come true
  • Your anxiety will gradually decrease in public and that you're capable of managing your symptoms until they do
  • The factors that trigger your panic attacks, or panic-like symptoms, or make them worse
  • Techniques to deal with your symptoms
  • How to change the unwanted and unhealthy behaviors through self-guided desensitization techniques

Goals of Social Phobia Treatment

Your treatment plan for social phobia is likely to include a combination of talk therapy, medication, and role-playing. The goals of treatment for social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, include helping you to

  • Change the negative thoughts you have about yourself
  • Develop confidence in social situations, especially the ones you fear most
  • Improve your coping skills

Medication commonly prescribed to help you reach your therapeutic objectives, include:

Bottom Line on Goals of Phobia Treatment

The goals of therapy are essentially to help you live your life fully without irrational thoughts and fears which interfere with your activities. You may begin with primary goals, and advance to other goals as you reach your initial goals. Every person is different so it is hard to estimate how long it will take any one person to reach their personal goals of treatment, but research tells us that these goals are often attainable—even when it feels as if you could never face some of the situations that you now fear.

Example: The treatment plan for Jack's spider phobia included one primary and three secondary goals of therapy.

Sources:

Bogels, S., Wijts, P., Oort, F., and S. Sallaerts. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Versus Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: An Efficacy and Partial Effectiveness Trial. Depression and Anxiety. 2014. 31(5):363-73.

Imai, H., Tajika, A., Chen, P., Pompoli, A., and T. Furukawa. Psychological Therapies Versus Pharmacological Interventions for Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia in Adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016. 10:CD011170.

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