A Specific Phobia refers to cases wherean individual expresses significant levels of fear or anxiety about a specific situation or object.
A Specific Phobia involves an intense or severe level of fear or anxiety in the presence of a specific situation or object that goes beyond the normal anxiety a person might be expected to otherwise show. The source of the fear or anxiety is known as a “phobic stimulus”.
The particular stimulus that affects a person could be any number of things. For example it could be an animal, bugs, snakes, or insects. The stimulus may be related to nature and a person’s environment such as a fear heights, natural disasters, or being in or around water. Often it pertains to blood, needles, or medical procedures. Other examples also include elevators, airplanes, people in costumes, and darkness.
Some of the more common Specific Phobias include:
Acrophobia – fear of heights
Androphobia – fear of men
Apiphobia – fear of bees
Arachnophobia – fear of spiders
Brontophobia – fear of thunder
Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces
Clinophobia – fear of going to bed
Glossophobia – fear of public speaking
Gynephobia – fear of women
Herpetophobia – fear of snakes
Iatrophobia – fear of going to the doctor
Musophobia – fear of mice
Phasmophobia – fear of ghosts
Taphephobia – fear of being buried alive
Thanatophobia – fear of death
Trypanophobia – fear of injections
Every time or nearly every time the person finds themselves in the presence of their phobic stimulus, that is, when they encounter the feared or anxiety provoking object or situation, they experience the same intense or severe levels of fear or anxiety. Fear is the response to an immediate and present threat, while anxiety is a response to an anticipated threat. The expression of that fear or anxiety often looks like a panic attack, though full panic attacks do not always occur in cases of a Specific Phobia.
Often a person will seek to avoid the object or situation, though other times they will force themselves to confront it. Nevertheless, the desire to avoid the object or situation will be present.
In children, temper tantrums, crying spells, clinging, and tensing up or freezing is common. Since it’s normal for children to be anxious and fearful as they gain life experience, it’s important to look at things such as how long the behavior has gone on, how strongly they try to avoid the object or situation, and how much the fear or anxiety affects their life.
At the other end of the life spectrum... older adults who experience a Specific Phobia may be more inclined to experience fear or anxiety related to medical conditions, such as a fear of falling which can lead them to be less active and less mobile.
Specific Phobias can also have unanticipated consequences. For example, a person who fears blood and injections may avoid medical appointments all together, even if an injection is not needed. Similarly, a person who fears driving may have trouble getting around town, keeping a job, or visiting friends and family.
Overall, across age groups approximately 6-9% of people in the United States and Europe will experience a Specific Phobia. Asian, African, and Latin American countries have generally lower rates averaging around 2-4% of the population. Similarly, children and older adults tend to be diagnosed less often. Adolescents however tend toexperience Specific Phobias the most, with rates of approximately 16%. That being said, most cases begin around ten years of age.
Approximately 75% of people with a Specific Phobia will have more than one such phobia. Most often, a person will be diagnosed with three Specific Phobias.
While certain phobias may be experienced more equally between males and females, for the most part women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with a Specific Phobia. We should keep in mind however that this could, at least in part, be a reporting bias where men are less likely to admit being afraid of or having anxiety around a specific object or situation.
It is not uncommon for a Specific Phobia to develop after a traumatic event such as being bitten by an animal, getting into a car accident, choking on food, or watching someone else experience a traumatic event. It is not necessary however to have personally watched another person experience a traumatic event first-hand. For example, hearing about an invasive medical procedure or having a family member die in a plane crash can also bring about a Specific Phobia.
Specific Phobias entail fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation. The person with a Specific Phobia may choose the endure the source of their fear or anxiety, but they will nevertheless engage in certain behaviors aimed at trying to avoid it.
Most people with a Specific Phobia will be diagnosed with more than one phobia. It’s natural to then want to avoid these specific objects and situations, which in turn can have unfortunate consequences that affect a person’s overall quality of life.
While Specific Phobias can occur at any age, most often they first develop around 7-11 years of age. In many cases, especially when the person is younger a Specific Phobia may be temporary. With adults unfortunately, Specific Phobias tend to last longer, sometimes even an entire lifetime. Older adults are less likely to experience a Specific Phobia than younger people, while adolescents are the most likely to experience them. Despite the overall lower numbers compared to those younger than them, Specific Phobias are one of the more common mental health diagnoses found in older adults.
All information on this website has been professionally prepared, but also intentionally written in a manner that is not overly technical. The terms used here are usually, but not always the formal and proper terminology or diagnoses that would be used between professionals. Similarly, we made a decision to not provide the full and exhaustive diagnostic criteria here. This is done so as to be informative and more easily understood by people who are not in the field of mental health. At the same time all reasonable efforts are taken to assure that the information presented here is as accurate as possible. We also provide a list of common definitions and abbreviations that you may find useful.
While clinical descriptions are not intended to be overly technical, they do attempt to be accurate and consistent with the DSM standards. Any changes made are superficial and done so for the sake of ease of comprehension.
It’s important to point out that the information provided on this website is not designed to replace a proper clinical assessment performed by a qualified professional. The descriptions on this website are not intended, nor should they be used to self-diagnose or to diagnose those around you.