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Arachnophobia

Definition

Arachnophobia, or spider phobia, is one of the most abundant and well known specific phobias. Even though there are many people that don’t feel comfortable around spiders or don’t like them, individuals suffering from arachnophobia are extremely afraid of spiders, to an extent that is interfering with their daily life. They experience high levels of anxiety and exaggerated and unreasonable fear of actual or anticipated spider encounters, and sometimes even of talking or thinking about spiders. Sometimes, they also experience extreme fear of other arachnids as scorpions, mites and ticks, however, spiders are usually what’s scaring individuals with arachnophobia the most (1).

Specific phobias are part of anxiety disorders, which are the most prevalent psychiatric disorders among adults (2).

Characteristics

When encountering spiders, individuals with spider phobia typically experience a sensation of fear that can be accompanied by trembling hands and legs, dry mouth, excessive sweating, tight chest, nausea, sensations of disgust etc.

Diagnosis

According to DSM-5 (5), the following criteria should be met: pronounced fear or anxiety of spiders; encountering spiders almost always causes immediate fear or anxiety; encounters with spiders are actively avoided or endured with great fear or anxiety; the fear or anxiety is unrelated to the actual danger posed by spiders; fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of life; symptoms are persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or longer and are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g. agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, separation anxiety disorder, or social anxiety disorder)

There are a number of questionnaires to assess the severity of arachnophobia, for example, the Spider Phobia Questionnaire (SPQ) by Klorman, Weerts, Hastings, Melamed & Lang (1974) (4).

Treatment

Today, different techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are recommended for treating specific phobias, including arachnophobia (7). Cognitive approaches in CBT focus on dysfunctional believes about spiders. Behavioral approaches in CBT focus on reducing behavioural avoidance of spiders. One specifically well-studied and frequent CBT-technique to reduce behavioural avoidance is exposure therapy. In exposure therapy, patients are gradually exposed to spiders. For example, patients will start by just looking at spiders, followed by watching spider videos, and, finally, by touching a spider. Other helpful approaches might be relaxation techniques, or mindfulness techniques that might help to reduce anxiety and fear symptoms (8, 9).

 

References

  1. Hasty, M., Gussone, F. (2021, 21. Of June). Arachnophobia: how to overcome the fear of spiders. Ro Health guide.  https://ro.co/health-guide/arachnophobia-fear-of-spiders/
  2. Eaton, W. W., Martins, S. S., Nestadt, G., Bienvenu,  O. J., Clarke, D., Alexandre, P. (2008). The burden of mental disordersEpidemiologic Reviews, 30(1), 1-14.  https://doi.org/10.1093/epirev/mxn011
  3. American Psychiatric Association, D. S., & American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (Vol. 5). Washington, DC: American psychiatric association.
  4. Muris, P., Merckelbach, H. (1996). A comparison of two spider fear questionnaires. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 27(3), 241-244, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0005-7916(96)00022-5.
  5. Bandelow, B., Aden, I., Alpers, G.W., Benecke, A., Benecke, C., Beutel, M.E., Deckert, J., Domschke, K., Eckhardt-Henn, A., Geiser, F., Gerlach, A.L., Harfst, T., Hau, S., Hoffmann, S., Hoyer, J., Hunger-Schoppe, C., Kellner, M., Köllner, V., Kopp, I.B., Langs, G., Liebeck, H., Matzat, J., Ohly, M., Rüddel, H.P., Rudolf, S., Scheufele, E., Simon, R., Staats, H., Ströhle, A., Waldherr, B., Wedekind, D., Werner, A.M., Wiltink, J., Wolters, J.P., Beutel, M.E. Deutsche S3-Leitlinie Behandlung von Angststörungen, Version 2 (2021). http://www.awmf.org/leitlinien/detail/II/051-028.html
  6. Hooper, N., Davies, N., Davies, L., McHugh, L. (2011). Comparing thought
    suppression and mindfulness as coping techniques for spider fear. Consciousness and Cognition, 20(4), 1824-1830.  
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.concog.2011.05.013
  7. Apolinário-Hagen, J., Drüge, M., Fritsche, L. (2020). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive
    Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy for Anxiety Disorders:
    Integrating Traditional with Digital Treatment Approaches. In: Kim YK.
    (eds) Anxiety Disorders. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 1191.
    Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-32-9705-0_17