What is a Phobia?

A phobia is an intense, excessive, fear of a specific object or situation (e.g., snakes, driving, flying in a plane, seeing blood, getting an injection are all phobic stimuli). The phobic stimulus typically triggers an immediate fear response or anxiety.


The prevalence of phobias ranges from 7%-9%. The prevalence rates in children is about 5% and increases to around 16% in teenagers. The rates seem to decrease with age. Females are 2x more likely to be affected by phobias than males.

Signs and Symptoms

In children, a phobia may be expressed by intense crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging behaviour. People with phobias will often actively avoid the feared object or situation and the fear will often be out of proportion to the actual threat or danger posed by the object or situation. People with phobias may feel nauseated, sick, dizzy, or have difficulty breathing. The fear or anxiety is often persistent and enduring typically lasting for 6 months or more and can cause significant distress and impairment in daily life. Some people will have multiple specific phobias. Not treating the problem can lead to depression, substance abuse, and social isolation.


The most common form of treatment is a form of psychotherapy known as exposure therapy. This may be done on its own or in combination with medication. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is another form of therapy that can help reduce the fear and anxiety. Exposure therapy will focus on changing the response to the phobic stimulus with gradual, repeated exposure. Cognitive behavioural therapy will focus on ways to view and cope with the phobic stimulus differently. With this approach, the person is encouraged to explore their beliefs about their fear and body response to the stimulus and increase their mastery of those responses.



The DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5

The Mayo Clinic: Mayoclinic.org

Video resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCOg2G797ek