Question: which is a phobia? Arachnophobia or fear of flying? The answer is: it depends upon how distressing the fear is. We often associate phobias with snakes, spiders, or heights, but a true phobia causes significant impairment in a person's life. Phobias significantly increase anxiety levels preventing some from working, enjoying their friends and family, attending school, or enjoying nature.
In each case the phobia tends to be a learned response to a previously scary or difficult life experience. The fear that is experienced becomes generalized to other similar situations. While this learning mechanism is a way to keep us safe from future threats, phobias are an exaggerated response that the person often admits is excessive. Other times phobias are generated by watching parents or siblings have phobic reactions. And while avoiding the feared object or situation may relieve anxiety in the short-run, our minds associate the phobia with even more fear, intensifying the phobia. This cycle continues until a true phobia emerges and the teen is prevented from living their full life.
Fortunately, specific phobias are one of the most easily treated mental health disorders. At the Bay Area Center for Adolescents we use empirically-validated Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques to cure phobias and clear the path for a return to a fear-free existence.
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