Phobias don’t always require treatment. For some, avoiding the feared object is relatively easy and doesn’t have a big impact on their daily activities.
But if you find that your fears are holding you back from doing things you want or need to do — such as visiting a friend who lives on the top floor of a building — treatment can help.
Exposure therapy is considered to be one of the most effective treatments for specific phobias. In this type of therapy, you’ll work with a therapist to slowly expose yourself to what you’re afraid of.
For acrophobia, you might start by looking at pictures from the point of view of someone inside a tall building. You might watch video clips of people crossing tightropes, climbing, or crossing narrow bridges.
Eventually, you might go out onto a balcony or use a stepladder. By this point, you’ll have learned relaxation techniques to help you conquer your fear in these moments.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT may help if you don’t feel ready to try exposure therapy. In CBT, you’ll work with a therapist to challenge and reframe negative thoughts about heights.
This approach may still include a bit of exposure to heights, but this is generally only done within the safe setting of a therapy session.
HOW TO FIND A THERAPIST
Finding a therapist can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by asking yourself a few basic questions:
- What issues do you want to address? These can be specific or vague.
- Are there any specific traits you’d like in a therapist? For example, are you more comfortable with someone who shares your gender?
- How much can you afford to spend per session? Do you want someone who offers sliding-scale prices or payment plans?
- Where will therapy fit into your schedule? Do you need someone who can see you at a certain time? Or would you prefer online sessions?
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Next, start making a list of therapists in your area. If you live in the United States, head over to the American Psychological Association’s therapist locator.
Concerned about the cost? Our guide to affordable therapy can help.
There aren’t any medications designed to treat phobias.
However, some medications can help with symptoms of panic and anxiety, such as:
- Beta-blockers. These medications help by keeping your blood pressure and heart rate at a steady rate and reducing other physical symptoms of anxiety.
- Benzodiazepines. These drugs are sedatives. They can help reduce anxiety symptoms, but they’re typically only prescribed for a short time or for occasional use, as they can be addictive.
- D-cycloserine (DCS). This drug may increase the benefits of exposure therapy. According to a 2017 literature review of 22 studies involving people who lived with various anxiety-related conditions, DCS seemed to help enhance the effects of exposure therapy.
In recent years, some experts have turned their attention to virtual reality (VR) as a potential method for treating phobias.
An immersive VR experience can provide exposure to what you’re afraid of in a safe setting. Using computer software gives you the option to stop right away if things feel overwhelming.
A 2018 study looked at the effects of VR on 100 people with acrophobia. Participants only experienced low levels of discomfort during VR sessions. Many reported that VR therapy was helpful.
While the study authors noted that more research is needed in the field, they concluded that VR may be an easily accessible, affordable treatment option since it can be done at home.