Many clients approach me with a phobia of an everyday event, thing, situation or experience. For example, a fear of flying. In my initial conversation, either by phone or at a first meeting, I will often define the difference between a fear, a phobia, and anxiety. This can be really helpful for the client, and myself as a practitioner in knowing how to treat this. My definitions are:
A FEAR is something that we are unsure about or afraid of, and apprehensive as to how we may react or perform in action. A FEAR is often logical and rational (a fear of falling), and happens in the present moment of experience – whilst doing or being near what we fear. Courage is required, and often the individual appears cool, calm and collected to onlookers.
A PHOBIA is an irrational panic or aversion to commonplace things, is not logical, and usually does not manifest without the presence of the trigger thing or situation. Phobics will do almost anything to escape, and are clearly disturbed. A true phobic CANNOT overdrive this response at all.
ANXIETY is always a future based emotion (wouldn’t it be terrible if, I’m afraid that etc) and can be avoided, coped with, or sadly escalate into panic states. It asks the questions “Can I cope”, and then imagines NOT coping, vividly and graphically. It is possible to also develop anxiety around either a fear of a phobia.
Asking the client “how do you know you have this fear/phobia/anxiety?” usually gives a good indication of where the problem lies. A Phobic will discuss it quite calmly and rationally, but express frustration at the unwanted response, often making plans to be in the situation only to be thwarted. A Fear will be acknowledged and dismissed, shrugged off, and coped with, but clear examples of past stress will be given. An Anxiety will be immediately apparent, widening of eyes, head jerking back, sweating, body stiffening at just the thought of the trigger situation or thing.
Learning to tell the difference between these states can be extremely helpful in resolving them. The interventions can then be tailored to a past, present or future response.
Often two of these states (or even three) can be present at hitherto same time, and once a phobia is removed, more time may be needed to deal with the anxiety that has built up around it.