Treatment of specific phobia in adults

Yujuan Choy, Abby J. Fyer, Josh D. Lipsitz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

342 Scopus citations


This is a comprehensive review of treatment studies in specific phobia. Acute and long-term efficacy studies of in vivo exposure, virtual reality, cognitive therapy and other treatments from 1960 to 2005 were retrieved from computer search engines. Although specific phobia is a chronic illness and animal extinction studies suggest that relapse is a common phenomenon, little is known about long-term outcome. Treatment gains are generally maintained for one year, but longer follow-up studies are needed to better understand and prevent relapse. Acutely, the treatments are not equally effective among the phobia subtypes. Most phobias respond robustly to in vivo exposure, but it is associated with high dropout rates and low treatment acceptance. Response to systematic desensitization is more moderate. A few studies suggest that virtual reality may be effective in flying and height phobia, but this needs to be substantiated by more controlled trials. Cognitive therapy is most helpful in claustrophobia, and blood-injury phobia is uniquely responsive to applied tension. The limited data on medication have not been promising with the exception of adjunctive d-clycoserine. Despite the acute benefits of in vivo exposure, greater attention should be paid to improve treatment acceptance and retention, and additional controlled studies of more acceptable treatments are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-286
Number of pages21
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive behavior therapy
  • Exposure therapy
  • Follow-up
  • Medication
  • Specific phobia
  • Systematic desensitization
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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