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Phobia is a persistent, unduly strong fear of a certain object or situation. Common phobias include fear of crowds, darkness, heights, and such animals as cats, snakes, or spiders. Phobias may severely limit a person's life. Phobic individuals may spend much time worrying about their fears and may be too frightened to carry out normal activities. 

Many phobias have special names. For example, the fear of heights is called acrophobia. Agoraphobia is the dread of open spaces, and claustrophobia is the fear of confined spaces or of being closed in. Ailurophobia is the fear of cats, ophidiophobia is the fear of snakes, and arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Other phobias include hydrophobia (fear of water), mysophobia (fear of dirt or germs), and xenophobia (fear of foreigners or strangers). 

A complete list of various Phobias

Therapists use numerous approaches to treat phobias. Two popular treatments are psychoanalysis and behavioural therapy, which are based on different ideas about the causes of psychological problems. 

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian doctor and the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that phobias and other psychological disorders are caused by unconscious desires. According to Freud, individuals repress (force into the unconscious mind) desires that they have been taught are bad. Freudians believe that a phobia is a symbolic expression of these repressed feelings, such as aggressive impulses or sexual drives, and of the punishment linked with the feelings in the unconscious. In psychoanalytic treatment of phobias, the therapist and patient try to uncover such repressed feelings. Psychoanalysts believe that when a patient fully understands the repressed feelings, the fear will disappear or become manageable.

Behavioural therapy is the method most often used to treat phobias. It holds that a phobia is a learned response and can be unlearned. Therapists using behavioural treatments often employ techniques that involve gradually exposing the phobic individual to whatever is feared. The exposure may take place in real life or in the person's imagination. For example, claustrophobic patients may imagine themselves in smaller and smaller rooms until they can visualize a tiny space without anxiety. The gradualness of the exposure is considered important in making the treatment effective and relatively painless. A popular technique called systematic desensitization combines gradual exposure with relaxation or other experiences to reduce anxiety. 

Many therapists who treat phobias conduct group therapy in addition to individual treatment. Group therapy enables phobic patients to talk with others who have the same fears and learn from one another. Some therapists also use hypnosis to help phobic patients face their fears.



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