Explaining reasons people might develop a specific phobia

23 Mar 2015

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This essay will discuss phobias. It will critically describe and analyse, behavioural and medical, causes and treatments of phobias. It will concentrate on animal type phobias. Explaining the reasons people might develop this specific phobia and give evidence for and against the models.

A phobia is an anxiety disorder; it is a continual, irrational fear of a situation or object, which causes symptoms that range from; a slight fear, which causes an immense response. A phobia is characterised by, physical symptoms: breathlessness, hyperventilation and palpitations and can even lead to painful muscle contractions (Gross, 2005 p. 218). Between 3-5million people have some kind of phobia (Mikhail, 2000).

An animal type phobia is a fear of animals and insects. That ranges from a slight fear causing a small reaction; to a phobia on a larger scale, causing a greater amount of distress. More extreme cases can cause life debilitating problems

The learning theory is a broad theory that includes a multiple of theories:

Operant Conditioning, Classical Conditioning

Social Learning Theory.

An animal type phobia can be acquired through social learning, which normally originates from childhood.

The mind detaches the feeling of fear from a traumatic situation. The unconscious mind associates objects with the trauma that they experienced. Although it can be difficult to pin point any exact trauma that the phobia could stem from. They can also be learned from other people that have the same fear. For example a phobia may be triggered when children see the fear of their parent when confronted by a spider (Gross, 2008 p. 190).

All Behaviour is learned, phobias can be learned through a process called classical and operant conditioning. Where the phobia is acquired by, learning through association. Phobia is associated with a traumatic situation. J.B Watson carried out a study into the possibility of conditioning an emotional response into a specific phobia. He carried out a study on a little boy named 'little Albert', Watson carried out test to find a stimuli that triggered a fear response in Albert, they found that Albert reacted to a loud noise made by a hammer stricken on a metal bar, after this a white rat was introduced, Albert did not react. Watson then made to loud sound with the hammer each time Albert touched the white rat. The joint stimulations triggered a reaction. A serious of experiments was tested on Albert who had now become fearful of the rat. A fear reaction to a number of objects associated with white fur triggered a reaction. Proving, phobias could be acquired through classical conditioning (Watson and raynor, 1920). The study of little Albert was unethical; it could of caused physical and psychological harm.

In the original documents from the report of the study, Watson contradicts himself throughout. In the study there is evidence that Albert did have a slight reaction to a rat before he carried out his study (Watson, 1920), Therefore the reaction of little Albert could just be a manifestation the fear he already had. Also ten days after the experiment little showed only a slight reaction to the rat leaning to the left, out of the rats' way but he was still happy.

Little Albert fell over to the left side, got up on all fours and started to crawl away. On this occasion there was no crying but strange to say, as he started away he began to gurgle and coo, even while leaning far over to the left side to avoid the rat…(Britt, 2008).

He only carried out this study with one child, and it was never repeated, meaning there is a lack of evidence. Albert was taken from the hospital before the experiment was finished; consequently there is no evidence that the fear reaction manifested into a long-term phobia, or whether any harm was caused to Albert, during the study of this theory.

Examples of treatments of phobias caused by behaviour are: Systematic Desensitisation and flooding. Flooding therapy is the fastest therapy for animal phobias; it is a type of counter-conditioning. It involves exposing the client to the phobic object, alone. They will be left there until their anxiety levels are reduced. During implosion therapy the client is encouraged to imagine them self in such a situation. However it is claimed by Bandura (1997) that it also depends on the clients' ability to deal with the exposure, not just on the exposure it's self, causing mistrust in this type of treatment. Also whilst most cases the symptoms were improved, others can be made much worse. (Leitenburg 1990.p.199).

Systematic desensitisation teaches clients to deal with their phobias themselves, it teaches them to relax visualising their way through a hierarchy of their fears, whilst using their relaxation techniques, until they have mastered the feared object. Although it can be argued that the symptoms will only come back, or new symptoms will arise because the reason for the phobia has not been dealt with appropriately. However there is no evidence that this could occur and that the symptoms will not be diminished for good (Cardwell and Flanagan 2006 p.107-8). This type of therapy does not involve direct contact with the phobic object, therefore the client could still have a reaction even though they felt that they had been cured, the could lead to worsening of the symptoms

Not all phobias are gained through socials learning theories. Genetics say that a phobia may be inherited. Prepared conditioning is a theory suggested by Darwin (1877). Darwin thought that the choice of phobia are not only learned they are also are not random. He suggested that we are prepared to develop conditioned fears to certain stimuli. An explanation as to why people develop phobias object such as spiders, snakes and other animals. It was predicted that this type of phobia has evolved over thousands of years, reflecting on the true dangers that our ancestors faced. A phobia of a dog is said to be a newer evolved phobia, because of the uprising of dog fighting (Kenneth,S,2006.p.69). This theory can be disputed because there is a lack of concrete evidence to support it (Edmund, J and Bourne PH.D. 2005. P.41.)

Another cause of phobias is thought to be an abnormality of the amygdala; along with other structures of the brain it stimulates panic, it interprets whether something is dangerous or not; and this information is stored in the hippocampus. The amygdala stimulates a variety of brain stem systems, which in turn stimulate the symptoms of phobias. If the amygdala is activated too frequently and or intensely, the systems can become over sensitised. Too much serotonin and norepinehirine contribute to the insufficient inhibition of the amygdale. It is thought that over sensitization can also take place as a result of acute stress or a multiple of stresses

Slater and Shield have studied the genetic link between phobias. They found that 41% of identical twins shared the same phobias; compared with only 4% of non-identical twins. However they did not include twins that had been reared apart in their study, failing to distinguish the cause of the phobia between genetics and Social factors, which they would have experienced together (Turner, 2007). Although in contrast to Slater and Shields; Cerkert, Heatson and Davey (1981) did use twins reared apart and still found that they did share the same phobias; suggesting that there is a biological factor to phobias (Turner, 2007). Neither one of these studies took into account that often when twins are separated, adoption agencies try to place twins in as similar surrounding as they can and with families of a similar structure

The best way to treat phobias caused by the medical model is with chemotherapy such as SSRI or Triyclic antidepressant medicine; which increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, which will de-desensitize the amygdale (Edmund, J and Bourne PH.D. 2005.p.41). Anti anxiety is often to control the symptoms of a phobia: Benzodiazepines are used for relief of severe anxiety but only short term; they inhibit the excitatory action of the nervous system and produce an overall calming effect; Beta-blockers are used to treat hypertension, these work by reducing the sympathetic arousal caused by adrenaline and noradrenalin (Cardwell and Flanagan 2006.p.105).

However both anti-depressants and anti anxiety drug do not extinguish the phobia, they only reduce the symptoms, shown by a relapse rate of 90% after treatment ceases. The dosages of the drugs have to be increased over time as tolerance increases; they can also become addictive, if they are used over a long period of time. Anti depressants are not suitable for children; they can potentially cause harm and are ineffective in treating them (Cardwell and Flanagan 2006.p.106)

Electro-convulsive therapy (ETC) is also used to treat patients when phobia has caused to become seriously depressed and other treatments have proved ineffective; and there is a risk of suicide, because it has a much quicker result than chemotherapy. A small amount of electric currents are passed through the brain, which is thought to increase the amount of serotonin available to the brain (Cardwell and Flanagan 2006.p.105). ECT has been effective in treatment, 60-70% of patients improve after treatment. Although is has been successful in treating some patients, others have complained memory loss after treatment and the DOH report (1999) found 30 % of those that received ECT treatment claimed that it had resulted in permanent fear and anxiety, the symptoms that ECT is claimed to reduce. (Cardwell and Flanagan 2006.p.106). This type of treatment can be seen as unethical, it is usually used on patients that have been detained under the mental health act and the majority had not given consent and are unaware that they can refuse ECT (Cardwell and Flanagan 2006.p.

Looking at the evidence of all the causes of animal type phobias, there is an unclear explanation for phobias, all the theories have not got enough concrete evidence to back it up, and all the theories are based only upon the ideas of psychologists. The behavioural causes seem more realistic because it explains more the reasons why not everyone has a phobia. The medical model would suggest that everyone should have the same phobias; if phobias were really a human evolution the right treatment for a phobia is also unclear as some that work for one person will not work for another. Looking at all the evidence it seems as though the treatment depends on the mentality of the person been treated.

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