Specific Phobias

Section Author: Bethany A. Teachman (University of Virginia)


Specific phobias, formerly known as simple phobias, reflect excessive, irrational fears of a specific object or situation. The focus of the phobia almost invariably provokes an immediate anxiety response and the phobic stimuli are typically avoided, or endured with extreme distress. Importantly, to meet diagnostic criteria, the fear must cause some kind of impairment in the individual's functioning, and the fear must be greater than others would likely experience. Specific phobias can involve animals (e.g., spiders, snakes), natural environmental (e.g., heights, water), situations (e.g., flying, closed spaces), and blood/injection/injury (e.g., blood, dentist), among others. Specific phobias are extremely common, with a lifetime prevalence in the United States of about 12.5%.

Psychological Treatments

Note: Other psychological treatments may also be effective in treating Specific Phobias, but they have not been evaluated with the same scientific rigor as the treatments above. Many medications may also be helpful for Specific Phobias, but we do not cover medications in this website. Of course, we recommend a consultation with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and discussion of various treatment options. When you meet with a professional, be sure to work together to establish clear treatment goals and to monitor progress toward those goals. Feel free to print this information and take it with you to discuss your treatment plan with your therapist.