Specific phobias

Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2009 Sep;32(3):577-91. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2009.05.008.


Exposure based treatments in which patients are systematically confronted with their feared objects of situations are highly effective in the treatment of specific phobias and produce stable improvement both in reported fear and behavioral avoidance. Exposure in reality is more effective in most cases than exposure in sensu. For situations that are difficult to realize, exposure in virtual environments has become increasingly valuable. Exposure in vivo is clearly superior to pharmacotherapy, although cognitive enhancers have been successfully used recently to increase the effect of exposure therapy. The induction of relaxation is not a necessary precondition for exposure therapy. Rather the current mechanisms of change focus on extinction learning as being the central mechanism both on a cognitive level namely that the feared object is no longer associated with severely threatening consequence but also on an affective level, meaning that feared cue is no longer capable to activate the fear circuit in the brain. Accordingly future diagnostic categorizations of phobic disorders in the DSM-V should rather focus on the pattern of the fear response that needs to be changed than on the eliciting cues or situations that are avoided.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Desensitization, Psychologic / methods*
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Fear / drug effects
  • Fear / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Phobic Disorders / drug therapy
  • Phobic Disorders / etiology
  • Phobic Disorders / therapy*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Relaxation Therapy
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Psychotropic Drugs