Exposure Therapy for Anxiety and Depression

For depression symptoms that may be related to other mental health issues like phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder, exposure therapy can help patients become more accustomed to and comfortable with things that used to bring them fear and anxiety.

As form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), exposure therapy is a process for reducing fear and anxiety responses. In the therapy process, a patient gets gradual exposure to a feared situation or object, learning to become less sensitive over time. This type of therapy is particularly effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias.

Facing your Fears

Few of us would probably enjoy snuggling with a snake or standing on the roof of a skyscraper. However, for many people, just seeing a picture of a snake or setting foot on a stepladder is paralyzing. While most of us eventually get past our fears or at least learn to live with them, people with phobias became prisoners by an irrational sense of panic.

Individuals with phobias realize that their fears are unfounded or excessive, but they are unable to overcome them. The presence of actual physical symptoms makes it even more difficult. You may experience shortness of breath, elevated heart rate, sweating, and numbness in the hands and feet -- all similar to a panic or heart attack. Given this kind of reaction, it is not surprising that most people with phobias simply learn to avoid the situations that frighten them.

However, avoidance cannot be considered as the most efficient way to cope with a phobia. Besides the limitations on your life that a phobia creates, having an untreated anxiety disorder may leave you even more vulnerable to psychological disorders like depression or alcohol abuse. A phobia can also strain your relationships with friends, relatives, and coworkers.

Exposure Therapy

If you suspect that you have a phobia, start by talking with your doctor who can recommend a therapist. You will likely be treated with exposure therapy for your phobia, although your therapist may also recommend additional treatments.

Exposure therapy involves putting yourself into increasingly stressful scenarios involving your particular phobia and overcoming your fear with new learning. The process usually has five steps:

* Evaluation. You describe your fear to your therapist and recall anything in your past that may have contributed to it.
* Feedback. Your therapist offers an evaluation of your phobia and proposes a treatment plan.
* Fear hierarchy. You and your therapist create a list of scenarios involving your fear, each more intense than the last.
* Exposure. You begin exposing yourself to the items on the list, starting with the least frightening situation. You start to realize that panic lessens within a few minutes of encountering your fear.
* Building. As you become comfortable with each level, you move on to conquer increasingly difficult scenarios. For example, if you have aviophobia (the fear of flying), you may begin by thinking about flying then move up to looking at pictures of airplanes. Special programs offered by therapists or major airlines may give you access to a pilot who can answer your questions. You may visit the airport and sit near a gate; on your next visit, you might board a plane that is not going anywhere. Finally, you will take a flight.

Exposure therapy is successful in up to 90% of people with phobias, some experts say, but it requires finding a therapist who you trust to lead you through these difficult situations. Using additional cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques is often helpful as well. For example, a therapist can help you realize that your thoughts about flying (or whatever phobia you have) are distorted and teach you to think about it more realistically. He or she may also teach you deep breathing or relaxation exercises to help reduce your fear.


It is important to have realistic expectations if you are beginning treatment for a phobia. If you are deathly afraid of planes or snakes now, you probably will not ever love them. Nevertheless, hopefully a therapist can help you get to the point where you can take a far-off vacation or visit a zoo without breaking out into a sweat.


Phobias are the most common mental disorder in the U.S. While not comprehensive, this phobia list offers a glimpse of the many phobias that can have a serious impact on an individual's life.

Achluophobia - Fear of darkness.
Acrophobia - Fear of heights.
Aerophobia - Fear of flying.
Algophobia - Fear of pain.
Agoraphobia - Fear of open spaces or crowds.
Aichmophobia - Fear of needles or pointed objects.
Amaxophobia - Fear of riding in a car.
Androphobia - Fear of men.
Anginophobia - Fear of angina or choking.
Anthrophobia - Fear of flowers.
Anthropophobia - Fear of people or society.
Aphenphosmphobia - Fear of being touched.
Arachnophobia - Fear of spiders.
Arithmophobia - Fear of numbers.
Astraphobia - Fear of thunder and lightning.
Ataxophobia - Fear of disorder or untidiness.
Atelophobia - Fear of imperfection.
Atychiphobia - Fear of failure.
Autophobia - Fear of being alone.
Bacteriophobia - Fear of bacteria.
Barophobia - Fear of gravity.
Bathmophobia - Fear of stairs or steep slopes.
Batrachophobia - Fear of amphibians.
Belonephobia - Fear of pins and needles.
Bibliophobia - Fear of books.
Botanophobia - Fear of plants.
Cacophobia - Fear of ugliness.
Catagelophobia - Fear of being ridiculed.
Catoptrophobia - Fear of mirrors.
Chionophobia - Fear of snow.
Chromophobia - Fear of colors.
Chronomentrophobia - Fear of clocks.
Claustrophobia - Fear of confined spaces.
Coulrophobia - Fear of clowns.
Cyberphobia - Fear of computers.
Cynophobia - Fear of dogs.
Dendrophobia - Fear of trees.
Dentophobia - Fear of dentists.
Domatophobia - Fear of houses.
Dystychiphobia - Fear of accidents.
Ecophobia - Fear of the home.
Elurophobia - Fear of cats.
Entomophobia - Fear of insects.
Ephebiphobia - Fear of teenagers.
Equinophobia - Fear of horses.
Gamophobia - Fear of marriage.
Genuphobia - Fear of knees.
Glossophobia - Fear of speaking in public.
Gynophobia - Fear of women.
Heliophobia - Fear of the sun.
Hemophobia - Fear of blood.
Herpetophobia - Fear of reptiles.
Hydrophobia - Fear of water.
Hypochonria - Fear of illness.
Iatrophobia - Fear of doctors.
Insectophobia - Fear of insects.
Koinoniphobia - Fear of rooms.
Leukophobia - Fear of the color white.
Lilapsophobia - Fear of tornadoes and hurricanes.
Lockiophobia - Fear of childbirth.
Mageirocophobia - Fear of cooking.
Megalophobia - Fear of large things.
Melanophobia - Fear of the color black.
Microphobia - Fear of small things.
Mysophobia - Fear of dirt and germs.
Necrophobia - Fear of death or dead things.
Noctiphobia - Fear of the night.
Nosocomephobia - Fear of hospitals.
Nyctophobia - Fear of the dark.
Obesophobia - Fear of gaining weight.
Octophobia - Fear of the figure 8.
Ombrophobia - Fear of rain.
Ophidiophobia - Fear of snakes.
Ornithophobia - Fear of birds.
Papyrophobia - Fear of paper.
Pathophobia - Fear of disease.
Pedophobia - Fear of children.
Philophobia - Fear of love.
Phobophobia - Fear of phobias.
Podophobia - Fear of feet.
Porphyrophobia - Fear of the color purple.
Pteridophobia - Fear of ferns.
Pteromerhanophobia - Fear of flying.
Pyrophobia - Fear of fire.
Samhainophobia - Fear of Halloween.
Scolionophobia - Fear of school.
Selenophobia - Fear of the moon.
Sociophobia - Fear of social evaluation.
Somniphobia - Fear of sleep.
Tachophobia - Fear of speed.
Technophobia - Fear of technology.
Tonitrophobia - Fear of thunder.
Trypanophobia - Fear of needles / injections.
Venustraphobia - Fear of beautiful women.
Verminophobia - Fear of germs.
Wiccaphobia - Fear of witches and witchcraft.
Xenophobia - Fear of strangers or foreigners.
Zoophobia - Fear of animals.

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