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All about phobias

Find out here about:

  Phobia versus fear
  Types of phobia
  Phobia names
  The Science of Phobias


Phobia or fear?

Phobias are not the same as normal fear responses.

It is normal, for example, to experience some fear when on a precipice or in the presence of a snake. But not to be terrified at the thought of a high place or snake. It is the overwhelming terror that distinguishes a phobia.

If you have a phobia you will be able to induce some of the common fear responses - shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, increased heart-rate, flushing, shaking - just by thinking about the trigger.

You are likely to have only one phobia. You may have other fears, but probably only one phobia. People generally seem to have the capacity for one proper phobia.


Types of phobia

Our clients bring with them some very interesting examples of phobias. These phobias fall into two types:

1  Specific or simple phobias

These are phobias linked to a specific object or situation. Examples are spiders, snakes, bees, worms, frogs, birds, dogs, cats, hedgehogs, goldfish, sharks, vomiting, driving, flying, clowns, balloons, thunder, needles, blood, dentists, beards, buttons, velvet, feathers, lifts and marbles.

Specific phobias can also be generalised - for example to all slimy green reptiles rather than just frogs. This seems to happen when the original traumatic event can't be recalled.

2  Non-specific phobias

These phobias produce a more general anxiety or terror linked to social or performance situations and are often accompanied by panic attacks.

Agoraphobia (open spaces), claustrophobia (confined spaces) and social phobia (public speaking, being the centre of attention) are non-specific phobias.


Phobia names

Most people know the technical, scientific name for their phobia.

This may give them some comfort: it has a name so they know they are not the first person in the world to have the phobia. But whatever the phobia, someone else has it whether or not it has been given a Greek/Latin name.

And knowing its name probably hasn't helped them deal with it. In fact, just the opposite: we know that some phobics experience anxiety at the mention of the scientific name. A person with a phobia of long words won't be helped by knowing they have hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.

So we rarely use these names in our clinics and we haven't listed them here.


The Science of Phobias

There are two parts to your mind - one that thinks, and one that feels.

The thinking part is the conscious, rational mind that you are using now as you read this.

The feeling part is the unconscious, emotional mind. It takes care of automatic tasks like regulating the heart, controlling pain and managing our instincts.

It's the unconscious mind that is programmed to act instinctively in times of danger. It reacts very fast - making you run or fight - rather than allowing your thinking mind to philosophise while you are attacked by a tiger. This has great survival value.

The unconscious mind is also a very fast learner. The same emergency route that can bypass the rational mind in times of danger can also stamp strong emotional experiences (traumatic ones) in the unconscious mind. This makes evolutionary sense - it ensures that we have vivid imprints of the things that threaten us.

And just like we have two minds, so we have two memory systems: one for the facts and one for the emotions that may or may not go with those facts.

Sometimes, when a person experiences a very traumatic event, the highly emotional memory of the event becomes trapped - locked in the emotional brain. In an area called the amygdala - the emotional storehouse. There is no chance for the rational mind to process it and save it as an ordinary, non-threatening memory in factual storage (in the hypocampus). Like the memory of what you did last Sunday.

Instead, the emotional brain holds onto this unprocessed reaction pattern because it thinks it needs it for survival. And it will trigger it whenever you encounter a situation or object that is anything like the original trauma. It doesn't have to be a precise match.

This is pure survival again. You only need to see part of a tiger through the bushes for the fear reaction to kick in again - for the "fight or flight" response to trigger - you don't have to wait until you see the whole tiger or identify it exactly as the tiger that attacked you before. In fact, it probably only has to be something orange and black moving through the bushes. This is why the pattern matching process is necessarily approximate, or sloppy. You err on the side of safety. You don't have to have all the details to know if something is dangerous.

This is the basis of a phobia: a fear response attached to something that was present in the original trauma. The response is terror, shaking, sweating, heart pounding etc. And because of the sloppy pattern-matching it can be stuck to literally anything - animal, mineral or vegetable. It may not even be glued to the thing that caused the trauma. So, a child attacked in a pram by a dog may develop a phobia of prams rather than of dogs.

It is because phobias are created in this way, by our natural psycho-neurology, that they are so common. It's the way we are wired. Approximately 10% of people have a phobia. And it's precisely because they are created by the unconscious mind that they seem so irrational. Of course they are - the rational thinking brain hasn't had a chance to go to work on them.

Many traditional phobia treatments, including drugs, attempt to deal with the phobia by calming things down after this response pattern has triggered. They treat the symptoms, not the cause.

To treat the cause, this trapped traumatic memory has to be turned into, and saved as, an ordinary unemotional memory of a past event. The emotional tag, the terror response, needs to be unstuck from that object or situation.

This is exactly what the Fast Phobia Cure does. It allows you to review the traumatic event or memory from a calm and dissociated, or disconnected, state. Your rational mind can then do its work in turning the memory into an ordinary, neutral, non-threatening one. And store it in factual memory where it should have been to start with. This happens very quickly. The mind learns fast. It learned the fear response quickly and it learns the neutral response just as quickly. And when that happens your phobia is gone. You are free.

The methodology of the Fast Phobia Cure was first developed by Richard Bandler, one of the founders of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) - the new science of excellence and personal change. It is so effective at detraumatising memories that it is being used more and more as a front-line treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder including trauma caused by accidents, assaults, war and witnessing critical incidents.

More recently, work by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell of the European Therapy Studies Institute has clarified how and why the Fast Phobia Cure works.

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