Teen Phobia Treatment
Experiencing fear is fairly normal; in fact, nearly everyone experiences the sensation now and again. Problems occur when fears become so obsessive or severe that they turn into phobias, an intense, overwhelming emotional reaction focused on an event, person, object, or experience.
Unlike the “normal” fear many of us feel from time to time, phobias trigger such a strong emotional reaction that even the thought of encountering the trigger is enough to cause extremely protracted panic attacks. Teens who suffer from phobias will often go to extreme lengths to avoid facing their triggers or situations that force them to encounter their fears.
What Does Teen Phobia Look Like?
- Phobias cause overwhelming, extreme fear reactions to a specific trigger. Teens who suffer from phobias are consumed by the need to avoid triggers, and may mistake everyday experiences for their trigger due to paranoia.
- Unlike regular fear, phobias are extremely debilitating and may interfere with everyday life and/or the ability to complete tasks.
- Teens struggling with phobias often experience severe panic attacks. They may be bullied by peers who do not understand their fears or how debilitating they can be.
- Teens who are phobic often go to great lengths to self-withdraw in an effort to avoid ridicule or eliminate the risk of encountering triggers.
Signs of Teen Phobia
Intense, extreme panic attacks
Self-withdrawal, avoidance, and isolation
Intense fear of encountering triggers
“Freezing up” in response to triggers
Types of Teen Phobia
Unlike generalized anxiety, which can leave teens feeling insecure for an unidentifiable reason, phobias focus on a specific trigger and leave teens completely paralyzed. In fact, some triggers seem to cause phobias more often than others:
- Fear of water
- Fear of heights
- Fear of flying
- Fear of sharp instruments
- Fear of animals (domestic and wild)
Phobias are never limited to just the entries on this list. Every teen is unique, and any traumatic or stressful experience has the potential to develop into a phobia. However, two of the most common teen-specific phobias include the fear of open spaces and social phobias.
Fear of Open Spaces
Also referred to as Agoraphobia, people with this trigger dislike being in large, open spaces. Often, this phobia stems from concerns that it would be nearly impossible to escape certain scenarios if there were a true emergency – for example, an active shooter event in a crowded sporting venue or a packed concert hall. Associated panic is so severe that affected teens may totally avoid leaving home, shopping, or using transportation for weeks or months at a time.
We know that people with Agoraphobia often don’t function much better in smaller groups, even if “easy exits” exist nearby, because fears aren’t rooted in amount of space. Instead, intense and overwhelming sensations like being surrounded by strange people, being vulnerable to ridicule, or simply feeling embarrassed and self-conscious play a bigger role.
It’s fairly normal for teens to feel occasionally self-conscious, worrying about how their peers perceive them. But teens with social phobias become incredibly sensitive to the criticisms of others, feeling consumed by worry over what people are saying or thinking about them. Concerns about being judged may cause them to self-isolate and avoid people altogether.
Causes of Teen Phobia
We don’t yet know exactly why some teens suffer from phobias, while others seem to easily overcome their fears. What we do know is that phobias trigger the brain’s “fight or flight” system, causing irrational reactions to mild concerns. Researchers continue to explore potential causation from genetic links, trauma histories, and other associated experiences, but in some cases, a true cause is never identified.
of shy teens have a social phobia
seek treatment to eliminate fears
of phobic people also have Depression
How Can I Help My Teen with Phobia?
Listen to your teen - The more you listen, the more you will be able to identify the clues that signal something is wrong. Listening also helps you determine your teen’s trigger and phobia boundaries. This knowledge will help with treatment.
Be empathetic - Never make fun of your teen’s fear or joke about it. It only makes teens feel worse about fears they cannot control. They may misconstrue your intention as criticism or ridicule, which can worsen phobias.
Educate yourself - We lack information about why phobias form, but know much more about how to treat them. Do your best to learn about phobia treatments. Spend some time researching your teen’s specific phobia and how to best communicate with your teen about it.
Suggest treatment - And help them seek it out. Teens with phobias fear treatment because they fear being forcefully, repeatedly, and torturously exposed to triggers day after day. This can become a phobia in and of itself. Reassure your teen that phobia treatment aims at helping, not hurting, and they will never be forced to take steps they aren’t ready for.
What Types of Teen Phobia Treatment are Available?
Talk therapy helps teens drill down and identify root phobia causes through discussion and specific therapeutic strategies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Teens may learn to move past their fear, but often learn new ways to regulate and tolerate fearful emotions first. They also gain a better understanding of why their phobias are irrational, empowering them to take a more reasonable approach when they feel panicked.
Talk therapy is an excellent option for teens who need assistance rationalizing and understanding their fears, but it isn’t a “quick fix.” Ultimately, it takes time to teach them new tools to regain complete control of their emotional reactions and feelings. Having a cognitive understanding is really just the first step – but it’s an important step to take.
Exposure therapy focuses on slowly increasing your teen’s tolerance to triggers and phobias; unfortunately, it is often widely misunderstood as a harsh, forced process, inducing fear of seeking treatment. This is a misconception.
In exposure therapy, professionals work one-on-one or in groups with your teen to slowly expose them to triggers, increasing tolerance over time. They also teach the difference between an actual phobia and a rational, realistic fear. For example, avoiding black widow spiders is normal, but it isn’t rational to fear that one will be attacked by spiders just by going outside.
Exposure therapy often starts with digital or printed imagery; teens may be asked to review pictures from a safe, protective environment. Or, they may be asked to attempt a stepped-down version of a trigger. Regardless of the phobia, treatment is always individualized to the patient and the severity of their symptoms. Nothing is ever forced.
Medications may help some teens manage the symptoms of extreme phobias; however, they should be considered an adjunct to therapy, not a cure. Anti-anxiety medications, including sedatives, beta blockers and antidepressants, reduce the intensity of emotions so teens can cope with treatment and healing more effectively. For teens who struggle with sleep due to phobias, or for those with comorbid mental health concerns, medication may provide additional relief.
Additional Therapeutic Techniques
A phobia is technically a form of Anxiety disorder. Thus, learning to relax is critical to successful treatment outcomes and symptom relief. Stress relief strategies, relaxation techniques, and even mindfulness methods may help teens bounce back faster after encountering triggers or when they are struggling the most. At Paradigm San Francisco, your teen will learn about:
- Physical exercise
- Quiet meditation
- Breathing techniques
- Visualization or imagery
- Yoga postures
- Creativity and art
Teen Phobia Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco
At Paradigm, we take a four-tiered approach to helping teens deal with phobias. First, we teach teens to better manage their symptoms, showing them new ways to overcome their disorder. From there, treatment focuses on life adaptation, reducing panic attacks, and living a fear-free life in the future.
The length of time a teen stays in treatment depends on symptom severity and individual response to treatment. By working with Paradigm San Francisco, parents gain access to significantly beneficial resources.
Living Away from Fear
Residential treatment introduces teens to a newer, safer, and controlled environment virtually free from triggers or negative experiences. They may feel calmer and more relaxed, and thus, better able to focus on therapy and healing. At Paradigm, teens aren’t distracted by day-to-day stressors such as home life, school, social issues, and relationships that may hold them back.
Step by Step
Paradigm focuses on meeting teens where they are right now. We never force teens into a treatments or therapy if it would cause more harm than good. Instead, treatment is a step-by-step process uniquely designed to prevent excessive trauma and setbacks by reducing fears over time.
The love I have for each and every member of the Paradigm Malibu staff is too great to express. Their knowledge, compassion and love for my son has made all the difference. Highly recommend.
– Tommy J.
Frequently Asked Questions about Teen Phobia
How long will my teen’s phobia last without treatment?
Phobias do not generally self-resolve without treatment; however, every case is unique. Teens who seek treatment sooner often heal faster and feel more relief sooner than teens who maintain their phobias for years before getting help.
What if my teen has already learned to deal with their phobia?
Someone who has truly learned to deal with a phobia can likely go without treatment, but what most people mean when they say they “deal with it” is really that they avoid it. This isn’t really resolving the fear because it fails to address the root cause. If your teen is simply coping through avoidance, there is an extremely high risk that symptoms may become more severe with time. By empowering them to fully overcome the fear, they have a better prognosis for mental wellness.