People can be afraid of a lot of things, but one phobia in particular seems to stand out among those seeking treatment. We spoke with Dr. Dena Rabinowitz, founder of Cognitive Behavioral Psychology of NY, to find out one of the most common phobias she sees with her patients, and how someone might be able to overcome their fear. Following is a transcript of the video.
Dena Rabinowitz: The most common type of anxiety disorder for Americans are specific phobias. But many people don’t get treatment for a specific phobia, because it’s not always relevant.
I’m terrified of snakes, but I live in New York City, so it just doesn’t come up that often. However, if you have social anxiety or social phobia, which is the fear of being around people, public speaking, initiating or continuing conversations. That’s something that comes up every day. And so I see a lot of people with social anxiety in my practice.
Phobias tend to cluster around common themes, animals, storms, certain unnatural environments. But there are some unique phobias. So, for example, in New York City, we have a lot of pigeon phobias. Because pigeons are around. Where that might not occur in other places. You can’t go in the subways in the summer, because they fly into the subways. You can’t walk down the street, because they’re in the street. And there’s bizarrely a pigeon hospital block and a half away from my office. So that works out really well.
I think the most unique phobia I’ve ever seen was someone who was afraid of oak leaves. Because they felt like the oak leaves looked like a hand that was coming out to reach them. But that’s pretty unique.
When you working with someone with social phobia, the model is pretty much the same. First of all, we wanna dispute some of the beliefs they have that people are always judging them, that people are thinking badly of them, and, frankly, that people are actually paying attention at all. Most people are thinking about themselves most of the time. And so they’re not judging you.
But then we move on to exposure. And exposures can be a lot of fun in social phobia. Because not only do we do exposures to everyday regular things like going into a Starbucks and just asking somebody for coffee, and maybe initiating a conversation. But we also do some extreme exposures where people do things that are either out of the normal or silly. So that people get exposed to the fact that they can feel embarrassed and tolerate it.
For example, I’ve had a six-foot-two man go into Macy’s and ask if they sell pink tutus in his size. Absolutely the sales girl thought he was a little bit silly, but he learned that he can cope with that negative judgment, and move on.
I think the most important thing that I would like people to take away about phobias is that many people have them. They’re pretty normal. And there is help. It’s pretty easy to get treatment for phobias. Most people can be cured of their phobia in a few sessions. And so if it’s causing you interference or distress, find a CBT therapist, and you can work on getting over it.
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