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Fear Factors

We’re all afraid of something. My roommate is afraid of ghosts, I’m afraid of clowns and we’re both scared out of our wits of spiders. Fortunately, there could be hope for us because some doctors have ways to help those who fear fear itself.[tiger]
According to Dr. Gary Laundre, director of the American Institute, a phobia is defined as an intense reaction both physically and mentally to imminent danger.
“Though there is no real threat, some symptoms involve light-headedness, heart-rate increase, intense breathing and possibly a panic attack, to name a few,” Laundre said.
Furthermore, he said that not all phobias are caused by trauma or past experiences. “Only 30 percent of phobias are triggered by past trauma,” Laundre said. “That leaves 70 percent with no known origin, so doctors are looking into genetics to see if genes are the reason for causing phobias.”
However, Dr. William P. Drescher of Michigan Psychotherapy clarified that a fear and phobia are two very different things. “A fear has a recognizable source,” Drescher said. “For instance, if one were afraid of a tiger walking down the street, that is a fear, but if one were afraid of a kitten walking down the street, that is a phobia.” Drescher further explained that a phobia is a result of a childhood trauma that is frightening enough that the child can not process the trauma and repress it.
Also, he said that phobias can be triggered by exposure to an object that symbolically represents the feared object, as the kitten example above states. “In general, if a person is under increased stress and/or feels less secure, all fears, including phobias, will be more present in a person’s life,” Drescher said. “We often times see that phobias have been present at a very low level in high school but reaches great intensity once that person comes to college.”
Both doctors agree that anyone can be afraid of anything as long as they contract the same factors and symptoms that were previously listed.
Laundre said that the most common fears were public speaking, heights, tunnels and bridges, spiders, snakes, and believe it or not…clowns. What a relief to know I’m not the only weird one in the world with that fear!
So can you cure a phobia? Well, both doctors agree that there are methods to prevent a phobia from reaching it’s ultimate peak; that is, reaching a point where symptoms become severe.
“There is a method called the Emotional Freedom Technique where you allow a person to be around their fear,” Laundre said. “After that, a doctor will tap the person on their energy meridians in an exact sequence and once that is over with, the fear is gone.”
Although this sounds easy, Laundre said it is difficult because the taps on the energy meridian must be in an exact order. “Of course, if you tap the energy meridians out of sequence, nothing bad will happen – the fear will still remain,” Laundre said.
Laundre does state, however, that many doctors will not talk about this method because it is controversial and even considered a form of witchcraft.
Currently, Drescher has a different approach when curing a phobia. He said that there are certain medications that will help the fear of a phobia. “The best treatment, though, is psychotherapy to uncover the hidden fear to which the phobia is symbolically linked,” Drescher said. “This method can be very curative.”
He continued by saying that a fear cannot go away over time or without seeking treatment. “Because a phobia is a mind’s attempt to deal with a hidden fear, the phobia will not go away,” Drescher said. “Indeed, it is more likely to get worse until it forces the individual to seek help.” Many people have fears so severe and so intense that it might prevent a person from leaving their house or making them more uncomfortable with their surroundings.
Kristin Rogers, a journalism senior, has claustrophobia, the fear of confinement and enclosed spaces. However, her fear is not so severe to keep her from going to certain places. “The only time it really freaks me out is when I’m in a crowded elevator or in a crowded hallway, and it feels like there isn’t enough room for me to even breathe,” Rogers said.
Anyone can joke about having a phobia or a fear, but Drescher said that it’s not a laughing matter.
“A phobic fear is as real as any other fear,” Drescher said. “The problem is that the fear has gotten displaced from the real object of fear, to something that does not seem reasonable. Because of this, people are afraid to admit they have a phobia, for the fear that they themselves will be ridiculed for it.”
Maybe we will never know what really triggers the reason we are “deathly afraid” of something, but if there is hope, who knows…maybe one day you’ll see me at the circus, squeezing the nose of a once terror-inducing clown. But don’t count on it.
For more information on phobias or how to treat them, contact Dr. Gary Laundre of the American Institute in Grand Rapids at (616) 285-9966 or Dr. William P. Drescher of Michigan Psychotherapy at william@michiganpsychotherapy.com. For more information on the Emotional Freedom Technique, visit their Web site at www.emofree.com.

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