My Phobia: Fear Of Drowning

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you have an intense fear of drowning that leads you to avoid getting into the water at all costs? Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder (this is different from panic disorder) that can be all-consuming and debilitating. However, not learning to swim because of a fear of drowning tends to be more likely to lead to drowning in an emergency. If you’d like to overcome a phobia of drowning, it may be helpful to try exposure therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed therapist. Self-education and visualization can also be helpful tools. One way to connect with a therapist experienced in helping others work through phobias may be by joining an online therapy platform.

You can overcome fears and phobias

How to get over intense fear of drowning

The best way to get over a phobia, especially if it is very intense, is usually through therapy and guided exposure. There are also additional resources you may want to take advantage of, and we will go over a few of them below.

Exposure therapy

Exposure work should generally take place under the direction of a therapist and should not be attempted without prior consultation. In the context of a phobia of drowning, exposure can refer to swimming or being in water. Your therapist can work with you to create a plan for increased exposure as you gain successful experiences. 

Exposure to the fear of drowning can start in small increments and work up to going into a body of water, such as the ocean or a lake. The therapist may suggest that you find a lifeguard or swim instructor to accompany you while you become accustomed to being in a body of water. This may involve going to a community pool and wading in the shallow end. It may start even slower by sitting poolside and watching others swim in the water until you are ready to go in.

At no time should you feel pressured to do something that you do not want to do. While your therapist will likely encourage you to grow through the experience, you should never be put in a position to do something you are not okay with.

You can also seek out swimming lessons in a pool where the water only goes up to your chest. This way, you can start to get comfortable around water and create positive experiences with it. As you build up strength and technique, you can slowly move your way up to bigger or deeper pools. Although your therapist will probably not be with you during swimming lessons, you will generally have a lifeguard or swimming instructor with you to ensure your safety. 


Using visualization to overcome the fear of drowning can involve the therapeutic technique of imagining yourself in or near water from a comfortable space. Visualization usually allows you to stay relaxed in an armchair or another comfortable, calm location as you conjure the image of stepping into the water, splashing your face, swimming, and so on. When you do approach water to overcome your fear, your experience with visualization can help you stay relaxed. Visualization can be a common therapeutic technique for other phobias, too.

Getty/Oleg Breslavtsev


Another useful tool can be self-education. Basic theoretical information about aspects of swimming, such as buoyancy or breathing techniques, may help with a phobia of drowning. Learning about the science of life jackets, for example, could put your mind at rest if you must go on a boat. 

Addressing the reasons behind your phobia

In therapy, you may have the opportunity to talk about your fear and what may have led to it. Your therapist will likely ask you many questions to help discover your reasoning. A common reason for a drowning phobia can be an event in your childhood that caused you to have negative feelings toward water, such as fear. This could have occurred while learning to swim or during another situation in which you spent time in the water.

Other less common causes of a drowning phobia may be seeing someone else undergo a life-threatening event in the water, being in a boating accident, or watching a movie in which a character drowns. There could be many causes of this phobia, and your therapist will typically help you work through them.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

One way a therapist may help you work through your fear is with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, you can learn how to challenge the thoughts you have surrounding drowning and start to change them to be more accurate and constructive. This might involve homework assignments, coping techniques, and positive messages for yourself, as well as weekly sessions with your therapist to talk through your fears. Therapists cannot usually prescribe medication, so if your phobia is causing panic attacks or anxiety that cannot be controlled with coping techniques, a visit to a doctor or psychiatrist may be necessary.

You can overcome fears and phobias

Support for anxiety disorders through online therapy

If you are looking to address your fear of drowning, you can get in touch with a licensed mental health professional through an online therapy platform. This can be a simple way to match with a therapist who has experience helping others with phobias. You may also feel more comfortable discussing potentially vulnerable topics like fears in the safety of your own home rather than at an unfamiliar therapist’s office.

A 2019 study looked at the potential efficacy of online exposure therapy for treating phobias. It found that this type of treatment could be effective, and the participants generally saw significant improvements to their symptoms that were sustained 12 months later.

Below are some reviews from BetterHelp counselors that can help you start the conquest of your phobia.

Counselor reviews

“Donna strikes the perfect balance of being a non-judgmental listening ear and giving practical tips and advice. Donna helped me across different problems I was facing at home and at work. She has given me the confidence to manage my fears and anxiety on my own.”

“What can I say, I've talked to Jill for about 8-9 weeks. She knows some of my worst fears, some of my worst secrets...she knows about pretty much everything that goes on in my head. She's really easy to talk to, and always seems to know what to say. She's got great advice, but only if you're willing to hear it, and take it to heart. She's really only been my only counselor, but I feel a connection with her and I enjoy our sessions. I'm just a random guy who needed someone to talk to, and fate gave me Jill as a therapist, and I'm glad the dice rolled that way. She's great, and I would highly recommend her to anyone else that struggles with being a young parent, a business owner, AND an employee.”


A phobia of drowning may impact your life by preventing you from going near water. It may also keep you from learning to swim, which can be dangerous in some situations. Cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, visualization, and self-education can all be helpful as you navigate your fear and reactions. You can find a suitable therapist to guide you through this process in your local area or through an online therapy platform.
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