What is a Presenting Problem?

Presenting Problems Are Your Phobia Symptoms

Woman In Consultation with Doctor
Universal Images Group/Getty Images

To a patient, the presenting problem is the reason you're seeking professional help. To your healthcare provider, the presenting problem is one section of an intake and inquiry form she writes up and saves as part of your medical record.

When discussing what you think may be a phobia with your therapist during the initial patient interview, you present your problem to the therapist and she will further assess you to make a diagnosis.

Presenting Problem for the Patient

If you think your fear of cats, or ailurophobia, interferes with your daily life to such a degree that you need a mental health professional to help you overcome it, your presenting problem is ailurophobia.

During your appointment, you share this "self-diagnosis," or list of symptoms with your therapist and her job is to determine if your presenting problem is the actual issue.

In order to come to a correct diagnosis, the therapist needs additional information provided by you in the form of spoken answers, written explanations, and/or medical tests.

Presenting the Problem on Intake and Inquiry Forms

A phobia falls under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. If you have an appointment with a therapist to address your phobia, she will fill out the "presenting problem" section by asking you questions.

Standard information on an initial psychological assessment include:

  •    your description of the presenting problem
  •    your goals and expectations of therapy
  •    how long you've had the problem
  •    prior attempts to resolve it

When the Presenting Problem Is Specific Phobia

When the presenting problem is specific phobia, a fear of a specific object or situation, your therapist will ask a series of questions to determine if you have a simple fear or meet the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) criteria for phobia, including:

  •  Does your fear seriously impair your ability to function in your daily life? For example, prevent you from seeking medical care in a timely manner, interfere with your social activities, or cause you to miss work.
  •  Do you feel shortness of breath or heart palpitations in certain situations for no apparent reason?
  •  Do you go out of your way to avoid your fear, or endure it under extreme duress?

When the Presenting Problem is Social Phobia

If your presenting problem is social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, you have an intense fear of being scrutinized, embarrassed or humiliated in front of other people. Some of the questions your therapist will ask are similar to specific phobia. Other questions she may ask you include:

  •  Do you develop symptoms in situations when there is a possibility of scrutiny by other people?
  •  Are you afraid of embarrassing or humiliating yourself in front of others?
  •  When you consider your reaction to your fear, is it out of proportion to any real risk?

When the Presenting Problem is Agoraphobia

The third type of phobia is agoraphobia, a fear of being unable to escape from a situation or place.

This phobia has similar symptoms to the two other types of phobia, so your therapist will need to ask a series of questions to see if your presenting problem is the real issue, including:

  •     Are you afraid to use public transportation?
  •     Do open spaces, such as a shopping mall or parking lot trigger your anxiety response?
  •     Are you afraid to be in an enclosed space, such as a bathroom stall or movie theater?
  •     Does the thought of being out of the house by yourself frighten you?


City University of New York: Writing a Psychological Assessment Infosheet #5 - Presenting the Problem

Mayo Clinic: Phobias - Tests and Diagnosis (2014)

Continue Reading