Therapy For Phobias

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated June 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While many individuals may have fears, specific phobias are an overwhelming and irrational fear of a specific situation, object, activity, or person. These excessive fears or phobias may cause individuals extreme distress. They may make every effort possible to avoid the feared object or situation which can impact daily life.

Studies show that roughly 12.5% of American adults experience simple phobias at some point. Some may involve a specific object or situation, while other types can be more complex, and some individuals may even have more than one phobia.

However, phobia therapy treatment options are available, such as online therapy, which can make a living with complex phobias more manageable.

Phobia symptoms

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th Edition, there are specific criteria for a particular phobia diagnosis. These phobia symptoms include:

  • Irrational, excessive, exaggerated fears triggered by a specific object or situation
  • Immediate anxiety reactions (such as a rapid heartbeat) are unreasonable to the actual danger when presented with a specific situation or object.
  • Individuals go to extreme lengths to avoid the things or situations they fear or experience extreme distress.
  • It has a significant impact on multiple aspects of the individual's life.
  • It has lasted for longer than six months.
  • The extreme fear is not attributed to another disorder.
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Types of specific phobias

There are five types of specific phobias that may affect individuals.

  • Natural/Environmental: These may include fears of nature, weather, or environmental events such as aquaphobia or fear of water.
  • Injury: These include fears of physical injury or harm, such as Trypanophobia or fear of needles.
  • Animal: This occurs when an individual has an intense fear of a specific animal or insect, such as arachnophobia.
  • Situational: This occurs when an individual experiences an extreme fear of specific situations, such as acrophobia (fear of heights), fear of closed spaces, fear of open spaces, or fear of public speaking.
  • Other Types: Extreme fears that don't fit the other categories, such as Coulrophobia or fear of clowns.

Therapy treatments for phobias

Many individuals may not need treatment for their specific phobias as they may have learned ways to avoid the particular object or situation they fear. However, treating phobias may be necessary for some individuals to overcome these mental blocks. Depending on the type you may be experiencing, many treatment options are available that may help. Psychology treatments can teach coping skills and adjust negative thoughts and behaviors, allowing someone to make the changes they desire in their mind and life. Other treatments, such as progressive muscle relaxation, can offer physical relief from the phobia in order to enable healthy coping habits. Consider speaking to your primary care doctor about your mental health questions and therapy options that are available.

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CBT: A common treatment

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common treatments for phobias. This form of talk therapy involves identifying your fears and learning to disassociate what you are afraid of from negative consequences by changing negative thought patterns and behaviors. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may help you develop the ability to use practical skills to overcome or manage patterns that may be contributing to your phobia or making your anxiety worse. Whether you're managing simple phobias or complex phobias or dealing with anxiety disorders, CBT therapists can help in managing anxiety related to phobias. CBT and other therapies have effectively treated phobias and other mental disorders across the globe, in addition to improving relationships and the links between thoughts and actions.

Exposure therapy

Another potential therapy method that can help people is exposure therapy. This method involves gradually exposing people to the object or situation they fear in a safe and controlled environment. The psychology of fear explains the importance of facing a specific fear in order to be mindful of the fear response. Through repeated exposure to the specific object you fear, you may begin to feel more control of your emotions during exposure to the actual threat. This is also known as systematic desensitization. One example of a modern technique is virtual reality exposure therapy, which uses this technique with the help of sophisticated modern technology. It's essential to go slow with exposure therapy and only agree to what you feel comfortable with, stopping when you feel anxious. There can be options for deep relaxation to balance out exposure therapy as well.

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Could fear be holding you back from living your best life?

Online sessions

Online therapy may be an effective option for those experiencing specific phobias, especially if the avoidance of confronting complex phobias is impacting self-esteem, affecting their daily life, or causing depression. With online therapy, individuals can receive effective treatment for phobias in the comfort of their homes whenever convenient for them. Online therapy is just as effective as in-person sessions. A licensed mental health professional may be able to help with a diagnosis and decide which is the best treatment.

With online sessions from a service such as BetterHelp, your counselor will be available anywhere you have an internet connection via phone, video, or online chat, so you can talk to them when you need it. An online therapist can help you navigate a phobia situation that feels like a life-threatening situation.

As unusual as some phobias may seem, they are very real to the person experiencing them. Anxiety resulting from being presented with a specific situation or object, like open spaces, can cause panic attacks that could impact a person's ability to engage in everyday activities or situations.

Online therapy for phobias presents a convenient treatment option for helping people understand phobias and develop coping strategies for managing them. These treatments may help individuals develop mindfulness strategies, realize the importance of being physically active, and slowly desensitize the triggers of the phobia. Someone seeking online help can schedule face-to-face or phone sessions from the comfort of their own home.

Therapists can provide various treatment options for those experiencing difficulty breathing or other physical symptoms. Whether someone exhibits a social phobia or one resulting from nature, animals, or other people, online therapy may help people learn how to manage anxiety in social situations.


If you believe you may be living with a phobia, it may be helpful to see a mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis. While some individuals can cope independently, many people can benefit from seeking help from therapy to overcome their extreme fears. 

BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can match you with a mental health professional that best suits your specific needs. You'll find a provider interested in helping you with your unique situation. You can also find tools and social guidance to help you overcome your phobia and begin to live your best life again. Reach out today to begin your journey to a better you.

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