Emetophobia Is Rare But Also Treatable (Pt. 2)

Treatment for Emetophobia

While emetophobia is considered an unusual phobia, it can still be treated the way a more common fear is treated.

One of the most common and effective ways that mental health professionals treat emetophobia is with behavior therapy.

Behavior therapy is usually led by a therapist who helps the patient to eventually overcome their bad habits. These habits are the ones which reinforce negative thoughts that cause anxiety. For an emetophobic person, this could mean learning to eat more varied foods instead of constantly worrying that eating something new will necessarily lead to illness.

One important component of behavior therapy is exposure. Exposure is a technique that allows the patient to gradually grow more comfortable with something that causes him or her to feel fear. Over time, exposure reduces a person’s anxiety about the object of fear. For an emetophobic person, this would involve becoming accustomed to the idea of illness.

In exposure, a therapist first introduces the patient to a specific thing or idea that is related to the object of fear. For a person who had a phobia of flying in a plane, this might mean first looking at pictures of a plane. From there, once the patient has grown comfortable with the object or idea (i.e., he or she does not feel anxious about it), the therapist will introduce the phobic person to something more closely related to the feared object. Using the flying phobia again, this could mean visualizing sitting on a plane. The last step of the “fear hierarchy” developed by the therapist to help the patient overcome the phobia would hopefully involve getting the phobic person to actually get on a plane and take a flight. Some therapists will even accompany their phobic patient on the flight.

Virtual reality is very helpful for helping phobic people to get through exposure therapy. For people who strongly fear something that a therapist cannot safely expose them to, virtual reality may be a good option. A person who has emetophobia might be able to be guided through exposure using virtual reality so that he or she will not feel fearful when confronted with actual illness.

Behavior therapy, especially exposure, can be highly successful at eliminating or reducing phobia. The biggest obstacle to successful treatment of emetophobia is usually compliance; many people are uncomfortable with exposure and may quit before the therapy has been completed. For people who stick with therapy all the way through, though, recovery is possible.

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