There are many approaches to conquering fear. Phobia is a kind of fear, yes, but its way stronger. It can cripple aspects of a person’s life and trigger physical health complications. What could be the most effective psychotherapy for, say, fear of rejection, crawly creatures, or other types of phobias?
We asked 12 renowned psychologists and gathered three innovative therapy approaches. This list is in no particular order.
1. Dr. Lee Keyes
Dr. Lee Keyes Ph.D., runs Keyes and Polychronis Consulting LLC, a company that focuses on college mental health care. Dr. Keyes is IACS-trained and boasts 30 years of experience in psychotherapy and management work.
He has provided counseling services in more than 80 campuses. The scope of his work includes reviewing and optimizing counseling service delivery in colleges, especially in the areas of suicide and threat assessment and management.
Dr. Keyes was the Executive Director of the Counseling Center at the University of Alabama. He was also the president of the Alabama Psychological Association and the International Accreditation of Counseling Services, Inc. He is currently an IACS advisory and senior site visitor. Keyes has published extensively on college mental health issues and treatment.
Here are the tips from Dr. Lee Keys:
- In my experience, the most effective treatments for phobia include first discovering the conditioning history of the client so that the context of the fear is understood. This will likely involve interpersonal and psychodynamic approaches.
- After that, I’d recommend considering exposure and response prevention (sometimes prolonged exposures), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- And/or trauma-informed therapies incorporating those two treatments, but only at the appropriate time.
2. Dr. Kim Chronister
Dr. Kim Chronister is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a doctoral from the Alliant International University (CSPP). Dr. Kim has published several best sellers on the topics of relationships, substance abuse, and eating disorders, among others. She has appeared on countless TV shows, documentaries, and radio show that explore the solutions to the psychological problems that people face in their lives.
Notable contributions by Dr. Kim include appearances on NBC News, Access Hollywood, Women’s Health Magazine, Investigation Discovery, and Livestrong to mention a few. She is the author of Peak Mindset: The New Science of Success and “FitMentality”.
Dr. Kim’s experience spans the areas of cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior, and ‘life coaching.’ Her methodology leverages strength-based approaches customized for each individual as opposed to conventional pathology.
Here are the tips from Dr.Kim Chronister:
When it comes to dealing with a specific phobia, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help particularly with a component of CBT called Exposure Response Prevention (also known as exposure therapy). There are manuals that providers can use for treating specific phobias with ERP. The technique involves gradually increasing your exposure to the object, setting, or experience that you fear, at your own pace, under controlled circumstances. As the client is exposed to the feared object, they are taught to master their fear through anxiety-reducing strategies like breathing control.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy typically works well with people struggling with social phobia and agoraphobia. Agoraphobia can be treated with CBT which has the potential to permanently change pathways in the brain that decrease anxiety and panic feelings allowing the client to function at a much higher level.
Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is another effective treatment for social phobia and agoraphobia. With MBCT, a client can learn how to use cognitive methods and mindfulness meditation to interrupt the process that triggers the response. MBCT also helps clients learn how to recognize their sense of themselves as separate from their thoughts and moods.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, around seventy-five percent of individuals with specific phobias overcome their fears through CBT, while eighty percent of those with social phobia are relieved through medication, CBT, or a combination of both.
3. Dr. Carole Lieberman MD
Carole Lieberman, M.D., M.P.H. is a board-certified medical doctor, psychiatrist, and award-winning author. She has been an expert witness and legal analyst. She has appeared on TV and radio news, shows and interviews.
She has several publications to her name and is referred to as a “media psychiatrist.” Her contributions include appearances on NBC News, CBS News, Dr. Phil Show, and many others. Her books include Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets and Why We Love Them, How to Live with Them, and When to Leave Them.
Dr. Carole Lieberman practices in Hollywood and has a medical degree from Belgium’s Université Catholique de Louvain. She got her psychiatric residency training at New York University, Bellevue. She received a Master’s Degree in Public Health froth the University of California. She sits on the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and she is a faculty member (Department of Psychiatry) at the University of California.
Here are the tips from Dr. Carole:
Tip#1: The most effective treatment for phobias is intensive psychotherapy. Talk therapy at least once a week can get to the root of the phobia. For example, someone who has a phobia of snakes may have been sexually abused as a child. And this unconscious memory gets triggered each time they see a snake. By going back into childhood, they can eventually
make the connection.
Tip#2: The second most effective treatment – that can be used along with talk therapy – is immersion therapy or exposure therapy.
The idea is to expose the phobic patient to an increasingly frightening hierarchy of situations. For example, if a person is phobic about heights, the therapy could take the patient to terraces of a building on increasingly higher floors and give them relaxation exercises at each, gradually moving over time to higher floors.
4. Dr. Sebastian J. Bartoschek
Dr. Sebastian J.Bartoschek is a psychologist, media personality, and lecturer. He has a Doctorate in Psychology and practices in Ruhr, Germany. The scope of his work focuses on issues of mental disorders, domestic life, and organizational psychology.
Dr. Sebastian provides hands-on clinical approaches in various psychological problem cases. He feels that conventional treatment approaches are inadequate when it comes to addressing diverse mental issues and the effects they have on patients and their caregivers.
Sebastian has more than ten years’ experience in clinical psychology and child mental health care. He provides stress management courses for children and young adolescents. He offers media commentary on various issues that touch on mental health.
Here are the tips from Dr. Sebastian J.Bartoschek:
To my mind a behavioral therapy works best with phobias, maybe in combination with some cognitive approach and underlying drug therapy. It is important to confront one selves with the fear inducing stimulus.
5. Dr. Janet Civitelli
Dr. Janet Civitelli is a psychologist and career coach practicing in Austin. She focuses on helping individuals and workers derive the most fulfilment from their lives and work. She promotes the individual-based approaches to counseling and psychotherapy and has successfully leveraged digital technology in providing services to clients across the states.
Her areas of interest include conflict management, emotional intelligence, work-life balance and anxiety, and depression management. Further, she has contributed extensively to women’s health issues, burnout and adjustment to change, and significant life transitions.
Dr. Janet is an expert on late adolescent and adult general psychotherapy, anxiety, depression, and stress and adjustment. She has participated in several outreach services in these areas from training mental health professionals to helping institutions establish the right programs.
Here are the tips from Janet Civitelli:
Exposure therapy, a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy, is one of the most effective types of treatment for phobias. There are some innovative new types of exposure therapy that use virtual reality. Some clients also respond well to hypnotherapy.
6. A.Kasandra Putranto
Kasandra Putranto is an accredited clinical psychologist with more than 28 years of experience. She also has 18-years of experience in Forensic Psychology. Her areas of focus include cognitive behavior, relationships, personality management and anger and anxiety management.
Mrs Kasandra is the founder of Kasandra and Associates, a therapy consultancy with a focus on group, individual and corporate mental health along with forensic services. She is also the founder of attitude Achievement for Titanium Generation, a movement for grooming assertive and resilient individuals that can meet the demands of globalization.
She completed her undergraduate education from the University of Indonesia in 1992. She is a member of the Indonesian Young Entrepreneur, Care and Care Education Group for Children with Special Needs, Indonesian Women Professionals and the Indonesian Psychology Association (HIMPSI). She uses the Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Behavior Activation (CBT-BA) approach to provide services.
Here are the tips from A.Kasandra Putranto:
Based on my 28 years of Clinical psychological practice in Indonesia, it has been widely proven that phobias, both common or specific, develop during childhood and reinforced throughout the years.
By considering and fully understanding each condition of each patient with a phobia, my top 3 therapy recommendation for them would be:
Tip#1. Relaxation with Mindfulness Therapy
Tip#2. Cognitive Behavior with Behavioral Activation Therapy
Tip#3. Exposure Therapy
To create a comfortable and trustful relationship with the client, I feel that understanding the cause of a phobia at the beginning of therapy is as important as identifying the avoidance behavior and finding a way on how to treat them.
7. Sarvesh Dosooye
Sarvesh Dosooye is a Consulting Psychologist in Mauritius. He is the founder and managing director of Forward Psychology Consulting that focuses on the group, corporate and college mental health. Sarvesh has broad expertise in diverse areas of psychotherapy from personality questionnaires to counselling, aptitude assessment, team evaluations and career guidance.
Mr Dosooye promotes people-centred solutions when it comes to mental health therapies. He is well-traveled and has lived with people of diverse cultural backgrounds. He participates in various mental health campaigns in Mauritius and has been a mediator in multicultural conflicts.
Here are the tips from Savesh Dosooye:
Tip#1: Therapy and accompaniment with a psychologist are crucial to treat a phobia. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy will help the person to gradually eliminate their obstacles and resume a normal pattern of behaviour.
Tip#2: Gradual exposure to their fear via Exposure Therapy helps in normalising the resulting feeling, thus decreasing debilitating reactions and harmful effects.
Tip#3: Psychological Coaching helps in also triggering growth in the person such that they can develop new, more productive thought patterns and behaviours. Thus, they not eliminate negative consequences but also gain positive outcomes they may not have had before.
Combining different techniques can yield high success rates in overcoming phobias.
8. Dr. Katharina Stenger
Dr. Katharina Stenger PhD focuses on online counseling and other service delivery modalities that leverage digital capabilities. Dr. Stenger practices in Germany. She obtained her PhD from Saarland University. She offers on-site sessions on weekends and after-hours.
Her focus areas include speech therapy and writing therapy, personality development and anxiety and stress management. Her work and treatment approach lean towards cognitive behavioral therapy, humanistic approaches and life coaching.
Stenger has also been deeply involved in exploring new methods of addressing personal relationship issues, work-life balance, and stress management for people in show business. Notable of her approaches include the photo- psychological workshops that focus on emotions and self-awareness.
Here are the tips from Dr Katharina Stenger:
Tip#1: Psychoeducation: The first and most important step in the process of treating phobia would be to become active and to get deeper insight and understanding of your psychological condition. Being able to openly talk about what is happening to you will help you to deal with your mental and physical health status. Phobias are complex conditions. Therefore, the causes and treatments are versatile. It’s not easy to stay on top of things, but you can try to get in touch with your individual pathology. The very common symptom for phobia is the panic attack, which again can look and feel different for anyone suffering from it.
Tip#2: You will acknowledge the psychological condition as a part of your life. That doesn’t mean that the phobia defines who you are – on the contrary – you are more than your condition. Try to integrate the phobia instead of hiding from it and letting it hover above you all the time. The more you know about your mental health, the more you’ll find out how to boost your mental immune system. How to get educated: Talk to an expert about your experiences. This can be a local physician, psychologist or psychotherapist. If you are not able to go to a practice or a clinic, you can look for an online psychologist, just like me. Anchors will help you through a panic attack when you are confronted with a specific situation that triggers your phobia. I call them anchors because they will give you security in the state of wild emotions and physical stimuli. An anchor is something to hold on to – sometimes literally. It can be a ball that you squeeze in your hand, for instance. The purpose of this is to give you a distraction and to shift your full attention to the anchor. Try to include your senses. More examples: Count the different colors in the room you’re standing in (this includes the sense of sight). Listen to your favorite song (this includes the sense of hearing). Have a small sachet with lavender and other herbs with you (this includes the sense of smell). Eat your favorite candy (this includes the sense of taste). III Relaxation techniques Your body will be exhausted while and after facing a situation that triggers your phobia.
Tip#3: Relaxation techniques will help you to bring back a balance and to regain control over your mind and body. They can even help you during a panic attack. Yoga is great to keep the balance in your mind and your body. Meditation can help you to accept and to let go of negative thoughts. PMR (progressive muscle relaxation) will help you to focus solely on your muscles and give you a deep state of relaxation. How to find the right relaxation technique: It’s basically a process of trial and error. Similar to finding your personal anchors, the right technique can be highly individual.
9. Dr. Michael Carollo
Dr Michael Carollo PsyD is a New York-based psychologist and personal coach. His work draws from an array of evidence-based therapy techniques that have helped his clients identify and mobilize their emotional resources to overcome personal challenges and achieve their goals. His areas of specialization include relationship management, substance control, depression, divorce, gender issues, professional efficiency, and trauma healing.
Carollo tunes his work towards helping his clients learn to manage their emotional wellness by identifying the patterns that can hold them back from joy and fulfilment. He focuses on making psychotherapy accessible, available and affordable for all people through after-hour appointments and online services.
Carollo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Boston University, a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the Antioch University New England and A Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the same institution.
Here are the tips from Dr.Michael Carollo:
Tip#1: Prolonged Exposure: This treatment is considered the gold standard in treatment of specific phobia (e.g. a fear of elevators, small spaces, bugs/spiders) and has been shown to be very effective in both the prior research and clinical practice. With the support of the therapist, the client will either realistically encounter (called in-vivo exposure) or think about (called imaginal exposure) the phobia trigger for an extended period of time until the fear response is overloaded and reduces naturally. Given the intensity of the treatment it is usually most helpful when clients are highly motivated to overcome one or more very specific fears quickly.
Tip#2: Graduated Exposure: This treatment is very similar to the treatment above, but is less intense overall and is also helpful with less specific triggers including social anxiety/social phobia. Before engaging in exposure exercises, the client and therapist develop a list of related triggers/situations and ranks them from least scary to most scary. The client and therapist will then use exposure exercises to slowly work their way up the list.
Tip#3: Exposure Based Group Therapy: This treatment involves engaging in either the prolonged or gradual exposure exercises in a group setting. Many clients report that the encouragement and support of other group members really helps increase their motivation to engage in the naturally challenging exposure exercises.
10. Nayia Naoum
Nayia Naoum is a Psychologist and Psychotherapist in Nicosia. She focuses on counselling and mental health care for married couples and children. Her work takes on a holistic approach to mental health, including working with the soul, spirit, body and mind.
Nayia’s work draws on insights from cognitive psychology with solutions that span the areas of work-life balance, and interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships. Her methods replace the many over-simplified and generalized approaches in psychotherapy with realistic and individualized analyses of human motivation and thinking patterns in decision making.
Her professional work combines psychotherapy with yoga and other mindfulness practices. She has come to see the value of this interdisciplinary approach toward mental wellness. She draws further inspiration from philosophy and other humanistic fields.
Here are the tips from Nayia Naoum:
I strongly believe and also witnessed throughout my career as a psychotherapist, that the 3 most effective Psychological treatments for phobias are the following:
Tip#1: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This treatment helps patients identify their faulty cognitions or thoughts that contribute to the phobia, and slowly and systematically break these down and replace them with more rational ones. This, in turn, influences affect or emotion, thus the phobia lessens or is overcome altogether.
Tip#2: Exposure therapy, where the patient is encouraged to slowly face the phobic object or situation instead of avoiding it, breaking down his “resistance wall” that intensifies the phobia. Gradual Desensitization is a common technique used in exposure therapy where the patient faces the object of his phobia “in stages” from the easiest stage to the most difficult (the actual object of the phobia).
Tip#3: Relaxation Techniques- where the patient learns to calm his nervous system and eliminates from his system maladaptive chemicals caused by fear such as adrenaline and cortisol. Progressive muscle relaxation , deep diaphragmatic breathing and visualizations are some common relaxation techniques.
11. Dr. Diane Strachowski
Dr Diane, PhD is a clinical psychologist and researcher with more than 20 years of experience. Her work leans towards cognitive behaviour therapy with a focus on love, relationships and mood disorders. She works with families, couples and individuals and starts her treatment by addressing communication issues in relationships.
Dr. Diane received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois and a masters degree in counselling from Santa Clara University. She worked with Stanford University on studies including panic attacks, eating disorders and other psychosocial challenges that plague students.
This research work inspired her to pursue a doctoral qualification at the University of San Francisco. Diane is a certified Cognitive Behavioral therapist. She has done clinical research and developed therapies for patients with depression, social anxiety, phobias and chronic pain.
Here are the tips from Dr. Diane Strachowski:
The treatment of choice for phobias is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, specifically systematic desensitization and exposure therapy.
Tip#1: In systematic desensitization you rank order a list of those things you are fearful of, say, it’s spiders. Make a list of those things that are scary to you, on a scale of 1-10, one is seeing a picture of a spider in a book a ten being having a spider walk on you or near you. Next, indicate not only how hard the task would be in rank order but what your SUDS would be, ‘Sudden Units of Distress’ on a scale of 1-100, say the spider in a book is a level 30, the spider walking on you is a 90. The goal is to teach people to slowly work up the desensitization ladder while at the same time being able to calm themselves down, do not move forward unless you get your breaking under control. So you are systematically desensitizing yourself to the anxiety you feel. By learning how to breathe and relax you change your reaction to the stimulus. A client keeps practicing on those things that are less anxiety-provoking before you move on. Clients can learn other alternatives to relax, like progressive muscle relaxation.
Tip#2: Imagined exposure, If the situation is something more abstract, like my client’s fears you can do something similar but it’s considered visual exposure, where they imagine the event.
Tip#3: Exposure therapy: it’s called in-vivo where they may be exposed to the phobic material in the session. A therapist can model these behaviors, say, I had a client who was scared of chemical cleaners, she brought them into a session and I touched it and put some on my skin to model or demonstrate for her that it was not harmful.
12. Lorna Devine
Lorna Devine is a certified CBT and life coach. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Her areas of focus include stress, low self-esteem, social anxiety, and low moods. Her work combines diverse approaches and techniques from evidence-based therapies to life coaching in helping her clients attain transformation. Apart from individual therapies, Lorna provides group and corporate counselling and hosts wellness workshops.
Lorna has been featured on BBC News and has worked with prominent brands including Sweaty Betty, Harper’s Bazaar and among others. She has more than ten years of experience in clinical psychology and has served thousands of clients.
Here are the tips from Lorna Devine:
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based and highly effective talking therapy which can help you manage specific phobias (e.g. phobias about specific objects or situations such as a fear of dogs or a fear of heights) and more complex phobias including social anxiety and agoraphobia. CBT is based on the theory that our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and behaviours are all interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can keep us trapped in a vicious cycle. The idea is that if we work on changing one of these, then we can alter the others.
Part of the treatment process that is often used to treat simple phobias involves gradual exposure. Exposure-based therapy in particular works by gradually exposing you to your fear, until the anxiety you experience naturally subsides, allowing you to gain control over your phobia.
For complex phobias including social anxiety, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE, 2013), an independent body that synthesises available research evidence to develop treatment guidelines recommends individual CBT that has been specifically developed to treat social anxiety. For adults who decline CBT and would like to consider another psychological intervention, there are other treatments available such as guided self-help which involves working through a CBT-based self-help guide with regular support from a therapist.