This involves persistent fear and anxiety in response to an object or situation that an individual is exposed to or anticipates being exposed to. A phobia is only considered a ‘disorder’ when it keeps someone from living a normal life. Phobias can be difficult to identify because objects of phobias (e.g., spiders, blood) are generally disliked by the general population and people with a phobia are viewed as responding to the feared object in an acceptable manner (Stein, 2004). There are five types of phobias: animal (e.g., dog), natural environment (e.g., water), blood-injection-injury type, situation type (e.g., elevator), other type (e.g., vomiting).
The diagnosis of a specific phobia is made when several conditions are present. Not only does the person experience significant, persistent, and excessive fear in response to an object or the anticipation of coming into contact with the source of fear, exposure to the object/situation results in an immediate response of anxiety (Stein, 2004). The person recognizes that their response is excessive but continues to avoid the source of their phobia and this avoidance, or anxious reaction when the person cannot avoid the object/situation, interferences with the individuals day-to-day functioning. The physician, psychiatrist or psychologist also needs to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms of anxiety. In contrast to adults, children can respond to objects/situations with crying, tantrums, clinging behaviour, or freezing, instead of symptoms of anxiety. Also, a child may not understand that their symptoms of anxiety are unwarranted.
Stein, D. (Ed.) (2004). Clinical manual of anxiety disorders. Washington: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.