Discussion Questions about Phobias

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Would you like to challenge your sixth through twelfth grade students about various phobias and possible treatments? The following discussion questions will be of assistance to guide your teachings.


The Robert Benchley quote ''Tell us your phobias and we will tell you what you are afraid of'' perhaps best encapsulates the relationship between fear and phobias. Furthermore, it has been said that a fear must interfere with a person's daily life to be truly called a phobia. Your middle and high schoolers will delve deeper, as they break down and critique the causes, symptoms, treatments, and types of these oft-debilitating and life-altering phobias.

Questions About Causes of Phobias

  • Why might you surmise children are at a higher risk for developing social phobias?
  • How would you compare and contrast the fact that women are more likely to suffer from animal phobias, while men are more likely to suffer from dentist and doctor phobias?
  • How does genetic predisposition play a role in whether or not someone develops a phobia?
  • How do you portray socioeconomic factors as they might play a role in someone having a phobia?

Questions About Symptoms of Phobias

Panic and Anxiety

  • The most common symptom of a phobia is a panic attack, although one may or may not occur. What do you think is the reason?
    • Many people confuse panic attacks, which are more often associated with phobias, to anxiety attacks. How would you analyze the difference between the two types of attacks?


  • Why do you imagine phobics often speak of the possibility of 'almost losing control' or 'losing control' of a situation?
    • Where might one phobic 'have' to be the driver of a car, while another phobic might 'have' to be the passenger?
  • How can a blood or injury phobia actually cause a dangerous situation for that person? (fainting risk)
  • How is the fear caused by the phobia usually much worse than the actual situation itself?
  • Although they are commonly confused, how do you compare and contrast a fear that protects you from danger, versus a phobia that has little to do with danger?
    • How would you juxtapose someone simply having the fear of mice as opposed to someone who actually has a phobia of mice?

Questions About Treatments for Phobias

Behavioral Therapy

  • What is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and how do mental health professionals utilize it in eliminating phobias?
  • How might biofeedback, deep breathing techniques, and meditation be used in conjunction to help treat phobias?
  • Since some phobias are never cured completely, how can support groups and phobia clinics help people resume going about their lives?


  • What is the difference between antidepressants known as SSRIs versus MAO inhibitors, as they relate to being prescribed for phobias?
  • What is the difference between beta-blockers versus sedative-hypnotics drugs, as they relate to being prescribed for phobias?
  • Who could anti-convulsion medications help, specifically with social phobias?
  • How could increasing the dose of a patient's anti-anxiety medication or suddenly stopping the medication actually increase anxiety in the patient?
  • How do you judge proponents of homeopathy and other alternative therapy treatments who claim to be able to help people with phobias?

Desensitization techniques and exposure therapy (relaxation therapy) for specific phobias

  • How could looking at photos of a scary bridge and then visualizing a drive over that bridge help a patient who is afraid of driving over bridges?
  • How do graded exposures allow a patient to control their fear at each successive step?
  • How is flooding sort of the opposite therapeutic technique from systematic desensitization, and why is the former controversial despite its faster success rate?


  • How do you evaluate reasons why some people might be the victims of a stigma attached to their phobia?
    • Why do you consider that a stigma could lead to other people actually discriminating against the person with the phobia?
      • How can the possibility of stigmas and discrimination prevent a person from seeking help from a licensed professional for their phobia?

General Treatment Questions

  • How can utilizing combinative therapy be even more helpful than just administering one method of treating a phobia?
  • Roughly what percent of people with phobias are successfully helped with cognitive behavior therapy, and why do you think the success rate is so high?

Questions About Types of Phobias

  • Which is the most common type of phobia?
  • How would you subdivide between the three main types of phobias, which are:
    • agoraphobia
    • social phobia
    • specific phobia


  • How could a person with agoraphobia, who is in a large, open auditorium, still feel trapped? (they think it's not possible to escape)
  • Although at first they appear to be total opposites, how do claustrophobia (fear of closed spaces) and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) have some commonalities?

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