(Please note: Because this article is for both people who have emetophobia, and those dealing with someone else who suffer from it, whether they are friends, families, or professionals, in this article, I use "v" to talk about the focus of the phobia. At the * at the bottom of this article, I use the word. At the end of the article I have inserted a couple paragraphs about myself and my counselling practice, followed by a non threatening picture of a beach and a warning that the article ends in a couple paragraphs. I do this because even the word itself can produce anxiety to emetophobic people and I want all of those reading this to feel safe.)
Emetophobia is a fear of v.ing. It can be either oneself v.'ing or being around someone else who is. There are variations in it's severity, but suffice it to say that it can be severely debilitating, to the point that people severely restrict their lives—where they go, if they go out of their house at all, what they eat, taking medications, and how they socialize.
Emetophobia is fairly common despite not being well known in general. Part of the problem with being emetophobic is the shame and embarrassment that comes along with it. The shame itself becomes debilitating and can be a severe impediment to seeking help. If you have a fear of v.'ing , then I sincerely want to congratulate you in being able to even acknowledge the problem and being able to face it. That is truly a huge step, and puts you on a path of healing. It may help you to know that there are literally hundreds of phobias, some of them quite obscure and unusual. For a list of them, take a look at www.phobialist.com.
Most definitions of the word phobia go something like this: "an abnormal intense and irrational fear of a given situation, organism, or object" or "A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous" Although objectively, phobias may be irrational or abnormal, to the person who suffers from them, calling it that does not help—because it is real to them and there is a risk that this kind of description contributes to the shame people feel. So although objectively a phobia is irrational or not dangerous, etc, to the sufferer, subjectively, it is. What is important to remember is that even if it "feels" or seems real, it does not have to be or feel that way forever.
Emetophobia is not just about the fear of v.'ing. It becomes about a fear of being in situations or having experiences in which it might happen to you or someone else. Thus, you might be afraid of taking medication, taking a drive on a bumpy road, being in a hospital where people are quite sick, taking a relative for chemotherapy, taking a pet with you in the car, or having or being around a cat.
It is important to recognize that in the end, the reason people avoid v- is not v- itself, but the anxiety and terror that the experience around it causes. This fear can be so bad that people may feel that they are going to die. It may completely paralyze them. It is natural to want to avoid these feelings and thoughts, so it makes sense that you would want to avoid the situation which causes them. But it is the anxiety/fear, not the v- itself, that you need to learn to handle.
The good news is that many people do recover from their fear. Depending on the severity and the length of time and other factors such as how it affects you, it may take a shorter or longer time.
The basic tool you will need for recovery is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) This form of therapy targets thoughts and fearful situations, and helps you learn to get through them, through a combination of relaxation techniques and exercises. You start working on the least threatening aspects of your fears, such as maybe reading the word v----. As you become able to face that without anxiety, or with minimal anxiety, you can move up the scale, called a hierarchy. You can try these on your own, but most people find that it is more helpful when they have the support and guidance of a therapist.
Because so often people with emetophobia feel alone it may be helpful for you to have some peer. Here are some links to online support groups:
If you are looking for a therapist, you will need to find someone whom you feel you can trust and with whom you feel safe. This will include a feeling of acceptance so that you do not have to feel the shame that is getting in the way of getting help. Your therapist can help you develop your hierarchy and guide your through the process.
Emetophobia can lead to other problems such as family issues and self esteem and those might also come up during the course of your work Although emetophobia is not usually the result of a single incident if it has been long standing, there may also be issues from your past that are related to it or how it or you were dealt with growing up. It is helpful then, to have a therapist with whom you can also work on those issues.
People with a phobia usually have what we might call a phobic lifestyle. What this means is that there are a number of areas in their life which are organized around avoiding situations in which there is potential to experience the phobic trigger and subsequent symptoms. Thus as described above, people may restrict their travelling, relationships, activities, places they will visit and even people they may see. They may avoid lifestyle decisions, such as the decision to have a child or to get treatment for an illness.
The actual fear response to the thought you or someone else will v.-- can make your heart rate go up very high, make you feel like you are dying. Your hands may become clammy, and you may even feel like you will lose control of your bladder. You may feel too terrified to move, or so terrified that all you can do is run away and hide. If people feel trapped and unable to escape, they sometimes get violent as they try to escape the source of their panic.
It is important to remember, as I said above, that although your fear may seem unmanageable, you will not die and you will return to a feeling of safety.
People who are close to someone with a emetophobia may find it extremely frustrating to the point that they will end their relationships with the person. Partly this comes out of not understanding, and partly it comes from the restrictions that the person's phobic behaviour puts on them. Even those family or friends who do understand may finally have "compassion fatigue" and just feel that they cannot cope anymore It is often important that they have some kind of inclusion in therapy, or therapy on their own. It might also be helpful for them to join a support group, or be part of an online group.
This article ends in a few paragraphs. After this section, "About Peter Silin," you will see the picture of a beach, and then the full word below it.
I am a counsellor in private practice. I deal with a range of issues, including marital issues, depression, self esteem, eldercare and aging, grief and loss. The first time I worked with someone who had emetophobia, I knew nothing about it. What I told the person was that I would do what I could, and walk the journey along with her. A year later, my client was free of the phobia. I have to say, the client did most of the work, I provided the support, clarification, and therapy that surrounded their work. I still remember the triumph my client felt when they were finally able to be around v- and not run or be overwhelmed by terror.
I work with a number of different modalities in my counselling practice, These include Emotionally Focussed Therapy for Couples (EFT), Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP), EMDR, and others. I try to use what I think and what I see will be most helpful to my clients. In other words I try to fit the counselling to the client, not my client to the theory.
In working with emetophobia, it will be important for you to do some work at home on your own in between sessions. This will include learning to relax and call up your relaxation response (which I will help you with during our sessions), and to be aware of your thoughts and feelings. For this last part, it will be helpful for you if you keep a journal.
I can promise you a compassionate and accepting environment, and bring to you over thirty years experience of counselling skills.
After this section, you will see the picture of a beach, and then the full "v.ing" word below it.
(I am indebted to Anna Christie, RCC, a counsellor and recovered emetophobic, of Vancouver BC, who makes her material freely available to counsellors and sufferers of emetophobia in helping me with this article and her support in my work with emetophobia:
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