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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Therapeutic Thought - The Downlow on Phobias


My crit partner Katie asked me to do a Thursday Thought on phobias. Because I love her (and because phobias really are just cool), I took her up on her suggestion. Thanks girl.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 4-TR (a therapist's psychological Bible of all mental disorders), phobias fall into three categories: agoraphobia, social phobia, and specific phobia. The reason for this classification is simple. Most people who have a phobia usually have agoraphobia or social phobia. The rest make up the smaller percentage of people who fear something specific, like spiders or heights or seeing blood.

In all cases of phobias, the fear is marked and persistent. Exposure to the feared situation or object invariable provokes an immediate anxiety response (could be a panic attack or in children, just crying, tantruming, freezing and clinging could indicate their anxiety). An adult with a phobia realizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable, but that doesn't stop the anxiety response.

In a nutshell, agoraphobia is an intense fear a person has of being in a situation where immediate escape is not possible or in which help would not be available if the person should become overwhelmed by anxiety or experience a panic attack or panic-like symptoms. This disorder often goes hand-in-hand with panic disorder (as well as many other fears).

Social phobia is a fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur. The fear can be generalized in that the fear is
related to most social situations, or it can be relegated to select circumstances (public speaking).


Specific phobia is a fear cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation. Exposure provokes an immediate anxiety response (could trigger an panic attack). There are five types of specifiers that most specific fears fall into: Animal Type (scared of dogs, spiders); Natural Environment Type (scared of heights, storms, water); Blood-Injection-Injury Type (scared of needles, seeing blood, breaking bones), Situational Type (scared of airplanes, elevators, enclosed places) and Other Type (fear of contracting an illness, fear of clowns, etc).

There is a great listing of all the specific phobias on PhobiaList.com. Fredd Culbertson developed this list by compiling every phobia he's ever run across in reading, etc. Since the fact is if you name something, someone can be afraid of it, I just couldn't make myself list them all here.

So here is a brief overview of phobias that hopefully will help while you're developing your characters. Just think of all the possibilities and quirks this could give you!

Wordle: signature

11 comments:

sherrinda said...

Great post, Jeannie, and thanks for that phobia link!
I must confess that the picture gives me an immediate phobia of HAIR!!!!!! (shiver)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

LOL, Sherrinda. You crack me up!!!

Not talking character's here, but I guess I have a specific phobia of swallowing pills, though agoraphobia sounds right too as it's the choking hazard that hits me the most. Maybe I need to reread your definitions. I'm such a grey person.

That spider doesn't appeal to me either, by the way.

Ralene said...

I...am...aracnaphobic. Thanks for the picture. *sniff, cough* Ack!

Great post, though, thank you for sharing (everything but the picture). :P

Jessica said...

Wow. I don't know if I have a phobia or not. Interesting stuff!

Tabitha Bird said...

I agree with Sherrinda- I now have a phobia of hair too!
Snakes, spiders etc don't bother me. But I must admit I am a bit paranoid about the dark... don't know why.
Great post. Interesting stuff.

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm going to like this blog, I can tell already. I'm already thinking for my next novel, I need to work a strange phobia in for one of my characters.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

thanks ladies! hope you can use it later, stephanie.

Stephen Tremp said...

Yeah, I have a few phobias. I am a hippopatomonstrosesquipedalliophobic person. I'm also afraid of mimes and contortionists. Clowns too. I must have had a traumatic experience at a circus when I was a kid and blocked it out.

Stephen Tremp

Georgiana said...

Ooo, you touched a nerve with me. SCARED to death of spiders...and they always come out when my hubby isn't home to defend us. Why is it that I'd be freaked by spiders, but other insects have no effect?

Thanks for the phobia list too. I'm always looking for something else to throw at my characters :-)

Angela said...

Great post on Phobias. I have a question--I have a character who will not leave her apartment (other than to water plants on her balcony) and who limits the people who she will let into her space to only a few known, trusted individuals. I've labeled this agoraphobia, but wasn't sure about the 'anxiety at strangers showing up in her space' aspect of it. Would this be part of the spectrum still or spmething else?

Hannah L. said...

Is it at all likely that someone might be just a fearful person in general, with many or most of the phobias you just listed? Or is it usually one kind or another?

Thanks,
~Hannah L.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.