Specific Phobias

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Specific phobias information article psychology

August 4, 2020 / By thadmin2

What I need to know to help my child with Specific Phobias

  1. What is a Specific Phobia?
  2. What are the consequences of specific phobias?
  3. What types of therapies do Thrive Psychology Clinic provide for children and youths with specific phobias?
  4. Parenting a child with Specific Phobia
    • Support and resources for parents.


What is a Specific Phobia?

A specific phobia is an extreme, persistent, and disproportionate fear of a specific object or situation that is of little to no actual danger. Phobias lead to significant amounts of distress, impairment, and avoidance of these feared situations.

It is completely normal for children to have fears – in fact, even as adults, most of us are afraid of several things or situations. Fear can actually be a useful thing – it is an inbuilt defence mechanism to protect us from dangerous situations, objects, or animals. For example, having a fear of heights keeps us away from dangerous ledges, while fear of drowning may prevent us from swimming too far out at the beach. However, when fear becomes excessive, it becomes problematic.

The term phobia is often used colloquially to refer to any kind of fear. From a psychological perspective, this is inaccurate, because a specific phobia is actually much more severe and disabling. Two key differences between a phobia and a fear, are that phobias are highly irrational, and extremely disabling.

A fear becomes irrational when it is disproportionate to the situation. For instance, when fear of drowning manifests into a generalised fear of showers and baths, that becomes irrational.
A fear becomes disabling when it interferes with our daily lives and everyday functioning. While it is common and even natural for children to be afraid of heights, being so afraid that they refuse to go to their classroom on the 2nd floor is a sign that the fear is in excess.

About 12% of people have phobias in their lifetime. Generally, phobias can be classified into five main categories:


Phobia Type Examples
Animal Snakes, spiders, dogs, insects, birds
Natural Environment Storms, heights, water
Blood-injection-injury Seeing blood or injuries, receiving injections, seeing a person in a wheelchair
Situational Public transportation, tunnels, bridges, elevators, flying, driving, enclosed spaces
Other Choking, vomiting, “space phobia” (fear of falling down if away from walls or other support)

If you wish to find out more about specific phobias, do check out this post on our Facebook page.


What are the consequences of specific phobias?

While phobias may fall into the common categories listed above, it is not unheard of for there to be phobias about even uncommon things. As a result, phobias have the capacity to affect us in any part of our lives. People suffering from specific phobias may go to great lengths to avoid their fears, and may show extreme distress or induce panic attacks when forced to face them.

With children, some of the more common and troubling phobias include school phobia and social phobia. The consequences of these phobias are much more palpable because they may cause practical problems in everyday functioning, such as school refusal. In such cases, children exhibit extreme resistance to going to school and may resort to a range of other troubling behaviours to enable them to avoid school – from crying and feigning illness, to soiling themselves, playing truant, or breaking rules to get themselves suspended. Eventually, these behaviours may settle into a vicious cycle of phobic reinforcement.

Taken together, such phobias can have serious consequences on children’s academic progress, behaviours, and social development, including their emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.


Contact us for an appointment to receive a psychological assessment for your child.


What types of therapies does Thrive Psychology Clinic provide for children and youths with specific phobias?

At Thrive Psychology Clinic, we recognise the uniqueness of each individual. Hence, we are always broadening our therapeutic services to ensure that all our clients’ have their mental well-being cared for in an individualised manner. Here are some of the therapies that may help a child with Specific Phobia.

  • Behavioural Therapy (Exposure Therapy)
  • Virtual Reality Therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Neurocognitive Therapy(can be used to complement Behavioural Therapy)
  • Hypnotherapy

One of the most well-established treatment methods for phobias is exposure therapy, a kind of behavioural therapy. At Thrive Psychology Clinic, in exposure therapy for children, clients undergo graduated exposure to the feared situation or object, in a safe and secure environment, under the comforting guidance of one of our psychologists. Slowly but surely, the child habituates or grows accustomed to this feared stimulus, and their fear slowly dissipates.

Exposure can also be achieved virtually, through the use of Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT). This is particularly effective for phobias that are extremely disabling or which do not lend themselves to in-vivo (real-life) exposure, for reasons of feasibility. This may actually include the vast majority of feared objects and situations, such as:

  • Fears of the ocean
  • Heights
  • Flying in aeroplanes
  • Speaking to crowds
  • Flashbacks of accidents or past traumas
  • Many more

At Thrive Psychology Clinic, computer-simulated virtual environments can be constructed to suit each clients’ exact needs, even matching them to the clients’ level of preparedness. In this manner, clients are able to tackle their fears, however crippling, in a safe, and comfortable environment, with the Therapist accompanying and guiding the client through the entire process.

Additionally, other specific techniques such as meditation and deep breathing can be used to manage symptoms of distress, should your child exhibit them in response to their phobias. Some of these can be easily self-taught and administered by the parent or even the child themselves. At Thrive Psychology Clinic, our virtual reality therapy also allows for an enhanced experience of meditation, where the Therapist guides the client through an extremely calming virtual environment. Besides this, we also provide an online guided meditation series with simple instructions that is well-suited for children of all ages

Finally, if you wish to learn more about behavioural therapy, you may consider checking out our online workshop on the topic.


Enquire about our assessments available.


Parenting a child with a Specific Phobia

  • Support and resources for parents.

Parenting in itself is not an easy feat. At Thrive Psychology Clinic, we recognise the need to support parents and caregivers through:

  • Educating caregivers of children and youths with special needs e.g., workshops and webinars at Thrive Psychology Clinic
  • Providing advice on how to manage their stress
  • Developing their skill in identifying the ABC’s (i.e., antecedent, behaviour, and consequence) such as P.O.W.E.R. in Behavioural Therapy (preview video displayed below)
  • Encouraging caregivers to accept their child with special needs and not feel despair
  • Creating self-help online resources for parents who wish to educate themselves more
  • Regularly providing complimentary educational resources by subscribing to our mailing list and social media platforms