What Is The Best Treatment For Phobias?

frightened face looking at wasp. Best treatment for phobias

What is the best treatment for phobias? If you suffer from fear of flying, are terrified of spiders, or panic at the sight of wasps, cats or dogs, this blog post will help you find the best course of action to take.

There are over 300 recognised different phobias and in this post we’ll look at the best treatment for phobias, from medication to CBT and hypnotherapy.

Find out which is the best way to help you get your phobia under control and start to live a more normal life again…

List of common phobias

You’re not alone if you suffer from a phobia; according to the NHS, around 10 million people in the UK have a fear or phobia of some kind. That’s 1 in 7 of us. (1)

And in the USA, Johns Hopkins University tell us that there are 19 million Americans with a phobia of some description. (2)

So let’s start this post with an alphabetical list of some of the more common phobias…

  • Acrophobia (better known as fear of heights)
  • Aerophobia (fear of flying)
  • Agoraphobia (fear of crowds or open spaces)
  • Aichmophobia (fear of needles or sharp, pointed objects)
  • Ailurophobia (fear of cats)
  • Amaxophobia (fear of driving)
  • Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)
  • Astraphobia (fear of thunder and lightning)
  • Autophobia (fear of being alone)

The list is endless (and this is just the A’s!)

We’ll continue with it later but for now I’d like to look at one of the therapies often used to treat phobias – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT for short. It’s something you might have tried or be on a waiting list to receive.

Can CBT cure phobias?

In my article about the fatal flaw in CBT, I suggested that the primary idea in CBT is wrong: Change your thoughts and you’ll feel better.

The fact is that when it comes to phobic reactions, no amount of positive thinking or reframing will change the pre-conscious template in the brain. In other words, you can’t feel better merely by changing your thoughts.

This is because the brain processes emotions before thinking.

So, what that means is that when something triggers your phobic reaction, your emotional brain responds first. Thinking comes second (if at all). For this reason, CBT is unlikely to stop or cure your phobia.

Once your emotional brain has got you hypnotised (with fear) you are too ‘locked in’. Your rational brain has, at this point, gone ‘offline’.

Fear of heights conquered after 70 years

Let’s take a real life example from one of my clients who came to see me with a fear of heights. A planned trip up the mountains of Ethiopia was already filling him with dread. Positive thinking wasn’t going to help.

As we worked together he told me of his long history of ‘acrophobia’ beginning in his childhood when his father stupidly dangled him over a hotel balcony 3 storeys up. The pattern was set in that terrifying moment.

From then on, whenever he was up high (the hills of Yorkshire, the balcony at the opera, or skiing in the Alps) the old childhood fear got triggered. It was as if he became 4 years old again.

He didn’t create the fear with his thoughts; the memory pattern (and accompanying fear) got triggered automatically whenever he was up high.

My client was a stoic man and would always soldier on. His phobia didn’t stop him doing things but it tainted so much of what he enjoyed. And everything took so much effort.

After just a few sessions of hypnosis and NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) he happily went up into the mountains – free of fear. His 70-year phobia was over.


More common phobias (B to G)

Let’s carry on with our list of common phobias. Is yours here?

  • Bacteriophobia (fear of germs/bacteria/viruses)
  • Catoptrophobia (fear of mirrors)
  • Claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces)
  • Coulrophobia (fear of clowns)
  • Cynophobia (fear of dogs)
  • Decidophobia (fear of making decisions)
  • Dentophobia (fear of dentists)
  • Elevatophobia (fear of lifts/elevators)
  • Emetophobia (fear of being sick or seeing others be sick)
  • Equinaphobia (fear of horses)
  • Escalaphobia (fear of escalators)
  • Gephyrophobia (fear of crossing bridges)
  • Glossophobia (fear of speaking in public)

Okay, we’re up to G. Have I covered your phobia yet? Maybe it’ll come later.

No matter, here’s the important thing to know…

All phobias are driven by the same ‘survival instinct’ in the brain – the fight or flight response. It doesn’t matter if you have a fear of snakes, spiders or something obscure like baked beans, it all comes down to the same thing.

For sure, the causes of each phobia will no doubt be different, but the treatment must include ways to switch off the emotional, ‘pre conscious’ part of the brain. This is why I use hypnosis in the treatment of phobias.

How does hypnotherapy treat phobias?

Unlike CBT and other talking therapies, the aim of hypnotherapy is to change pre-conscious templates in the brain. It’s not about changing your thoughts but more about changing your instincts.

Here’s the thing…

From 27 weeks, the baby in the womb spends up to 80% of its time in REM sleep. Why? Because the REM state is the optimal programming state and during that time the baby is laying down instinctive templates. (3)

The REM state is what we use in hypnotherapy. But hypnosis isn’t about being asleep and dreaming. Far from it. Hypnosis is a highly focused, ‘waking dream’ state.

And it is in that highly focused ‘waking dream’ that phobic reactions can be switched off and new patterns established.

RELATED CONTENT: hypnotherapy and the treatment of PTSD and traumatic memories

No more fear of spiders

So whether it’s fear of heights, dogs, water, dentists or whatever, the phobic template can be switched off with the right treatment. But you can’t just think yourself out of it, you have to change the patterns deeper in the limbic system. (4)

Once this is done (using specialised hypnotic techniques) you no longer get triggered by your old phobic stimulus.

A.B. came to see me, having suffered from a fear of spiders for years. This is what she said afterwards…

I’ve noticed that on seeing a spider I no longer feel my heart pounding or the urge to run away. I can quite happily sit in the vicinity of larger spiders, not really bothering whether they are removed or not.


But let’s just clear something up here…

It is not the hypnosis per se that cures the phobia but the methods used (and the quality of the therapeutic relationship).

How to successfully treat phobias

Like any good therapy, positive outcomes are dependant on a variety of factors…

  1. You’ve got to want to change yourself. (The motivation has to come from you initially)
  2. You’ve got to feel safe with your therapist. (Good outcomes are unlikely if a safe, trusting, therapeutic relationship hasn’t been established)
  3. Your therapist has to know what they are doing. (They must instil belief in all they say and do: expectation has a huge impact on therapeutic outcomes)
  4. The therapist must use the right techniques in the right way and at the right time. (It’s no good rushing for a cure straight away. Some people need time to share their story).

Are you a therapist? Learn powerful hypnotic techniques to help your clients cure phobias, conquer PTSD, and stop panic attacks

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In my early days as a hypnotherapist I was too keen to cure phobias in a single session. Don’t get me wrong; many simple phobias can be treated in just one session of hypnosis but often there are other, more complex factors that also need addressing.

Emetophobia (fear of being sick or seeing sick) is one such complex phobia and usually takes longer to treat. But good outcomes can still be achieved…

Fear of being sick conquered at last

M.O. from London had suffered from emetophobia for years. She was terrified of being sick herself or seeing others being ill or sick. Even seeing vomit in the street or someone retching in a film would be enough to trigger her phobic reactions.

She became obsessive about cleanliness and was fastidious about cleaning food like fruit and veg. Getting a bug had to be avoided at all costs.

Here’s what she had to say…

“After many years struggling with anxiety and emetophobia, seeing you has had an incredible impact on my day to day life. I think I said to you when we met that I felt an absolute dread that I’d never be able to escape the phobia, that I lived every day worrying that anxiety triggers would arise, and that I found it very hard to cope when they did…

Incredibly, I’ve now spent the last 6 months or so with anxiety playing a much, much smaller role in my life -in fact, I often forget it completely for days on end!”


List of common phobias (continued)

Let’s continue our list of common phobias from H to N…

  • Hemophobia (fear of blood)
  • Hydrophobia (fear of water)
  • Hypochondria (fear of illness)
  • Iatrophobia (fear of doctors – the ‘white coat syndrome’)
  • Mysophobia (fear of dirt and germs, bacteriophobia)
  • Necrophobia (fear of death or dead things)
  • Noctiphobia (fear of the night) and Nyctophobia (fear of darkness)
  • Nosocomephobia (fear of hospitals)

It’s not surprising that this list goes on and on. There are over 300 recognised phobias, some of which are less common such as erotophobia (fear of sexual intimacy), xylophobia (fear of forests and woodlands), and phasmophobia (fear of ghosts).

What all these phobias have in common is an intense, emotional reaction. The survival brain takes over and locks you into a trance of fear. Your rational brain goes off-line (or is hijacked completely) and it takes forever to calm down. Sometimes, after you’ve been triggered, it’s not till the next day that you feel back to normal again.

But once the template is amended you simply don’t respond in the same way anymore. Your rational brain stays involved and you can calmly assess the situation. In a neurological sense, your limbic system no longer runs the show.

Imagine what difference that would make in your life?

No more fear of flying

Like S.H. who came to see me with a severe fear of flying, perhaps overcoming your own phobia will open up a world of possibilities.

Whereas previously every flight involved extreme levels of anxiety, she was able to fly comfortably when we had turned off her fear template.

This is what she had to say…

“I was unable to fly without a two week build-up of fast pulse, vomiting and panic spells. In the airport symptoms increased, spending most of the time in the rest rooms, gagging, vomiting, unable to concentrate to even be able to hold a conversation, eat or drink, feeling as though I would rather die.

The next flight with my husband was so good he could not believe he was flying with the same person. He could not stop remarking on how I had changed and how different I was.”


More common phobias (from O to Z)

Let’s finish our list now from O to Z…

  • Obesophobia (fear of gaining weight)
  • Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)
  • Ornithophobia (fear of birds)
  • Pathophobia (fear of disease)
  • Sociophobia (fear of social evaluation)
  • Spheksophobia (fear of wasps. Fear of bees is called Apiphobia)
  • Trypanophobia (fear of needles/injections)
  • Xenophobia (fear of strangers or foreigners)
  • Zoophobia (fear of animals)

In this article I’ve written about how hypnotherapy treats phobias – by changing the pre-conscious reactive pattern. But is hypnotherapy the best way to treat phobias?

Let’s spend a moment exploring the other ways that phobias are often treated…

Other ways to treat phobias

If you go to your GP (which should always be your first port of call) you’ll likely be offered CBT. I’ve already mentioned why CBT is unlikely to make a difference to phobias, especially severe phobias. Once the fear template is triggered no amount of positive thinking will change things.

In the treatment of phobias there is still too much emphasis on trying to change the way you think, believing this will change the way you feel. The key is in changing how you feel first, and in order to do that the unconscious template needs re-setting. You won’t be able to do that with CBT. (5)

Then there is ‘flooding’ or ‘exposure therapy’. The idea here is that you confront your fears, starting with the least frightening, until your brain learns that the stimulus is no longer frightening.

The problem with this approach is that it will often stimulate the fear template too much, locking you into the survival brain and embedding the phobia even deeper. And it can take months of therapy.

And then there are relaxation and mindfulness techniques to treat phobias. For sure, calmness is a key ingredient when overcoming fears, phobias, PTSD and other traumas, but on their own relaxation and mindfulness won’t change the pre-conscious fear patterns in the brain.

Can medication cure phobias?

Back in my care-working days I sometimes had to administer Diazepam to help people calm down but what I found was the drug would take too long to have much effect. (Diazepam can take up to 2 hours to start working). That’s not much use when a very agitated service-user is making her way towards a very big kitchen knife!

And when it comes to phobias, the reaction happens in an instant; e.g. you see a spider which immediately fires off the alarm system.

For sure, taking medication after you’ve been triggered will help you to calm down but it’s not going to stop you reacting in that way in the first place; it won’t turn the template off. (6)

However, drugs like betablockers or the benzodiazepines might help lower general anxiety levels which, in turn, may prevent the emotional brain firing off so easily.

But surely it’s best to turn the template off rather than just try to mask or manage it with medications?

The best way to treat phobias – summary

It was inevitable that I would say hypnotherapy is the best treatment for phobias. I’m biased, for sure. My 20 years of treating phobias using hypnosis tells me (and my clients) that it really works.

Of course, there are other methods, as I’ve just mentioned. But when we understand that the brain processes emotions before thoughts, CBT makes no sense in the treatment of phobias. It’s not your thinking that creates a phobic reaction, but your emotional brain.

And changing how you feel is what all good therapy is about.

I’d love to know what you think of this post. Leave a comment below or send me a private email.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how hypnotherapy could treat your phobia take advantage of a Free Discovery Session.

And if you’re a therapist who wants to help clients with phobias check out my resources for therapists section.

Notes and further study

(1) https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/mental-health/phobias

(2) https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/phobias#:~:text=About%2019%20million%20Americans%20have,both%20men%20and%20women%20equally.

(3) Foetal REM sleep analysis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507482/

(4) Why the brain processes emotions first https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack

(5) The APET model that explains why cognitive therapy has little effect on the treatment of phobias https://www.hgi.org.uk/resources/delve-our-extensive-library/mental-health-services-nhs-cbt-psychotherapy/apet-model

(6) https://www.youngminds.org.uk/young-person/medications/diazepam/#:~:text=Diazepam%20starts%20to%20work%20very,two%20hours%20of%20taking%20it.

The featured image used in this blog post is by Mark Morgan.

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