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Do you have a strong fear of snakes that affects your lifestyle? You may be suffering from ophidiophobia. Here we look at the phobia and the treatment available.

What is ophidiophobia?

Ophidiophobia (snake phobia) is an intense and irrational fear of snakes. It is a specific phobia where the person experiences strong negative emotions at the thought or sight of specific snakes. This phobia can limit a person’s day-to-day life, as they may avoid situations where they might encounter snakes, even if the risk is minimal or non-existent. This can be distressing but can be helped in therapy.

Why do people get ophidiophobia?

The causes of ophidiophobia are a combination of evolutionary, genetic and environmental factors. An evolutionary theory suggests that a fear of snakes may have been beneficial to human survival in the past, as it may be functional to avoid what could potentially be a danger to life.

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Genetic factors may play a role but one can also learn by observing relatives who are afraid of snakes. Myths about snakes that exist in certain cultures can also contribute. Personal experiences, such as a frightening incident with a snake, definitely add to the development of the phobia.

How common are phobias?

Phobias affect about 10 million people in the UK so they are a fairly common anxiety disorder. These can range from common phobias such as fear of heights and social phobia to lesser-known ones such as ‘hole phobia’ (trypophobia).

Symptoms of ophidiophobia

The symptoms of ophidiophobia, as with other specific phobias, can vary in intensity from person to person, but they often involve a combination of emotional, physical and behavioral reactions. Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Intense and disproportionate fear: An immediate and strong feeling of fear or anxiety when thinking about, seeing pictures of, or encountering snakes, even if there is no direct threat.
  2. Avoidance behaviour: A person with snake phobia may go to extreme lengths to avoid places or situations where they think there may be snakes. This can include avoiding outdoor activities, certain places, or even watching TV shows or movies that feature snakes.
  3. Physical symptoms: When confronted with snakes or the thought of them, physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or even fainting may occur.
  4. Panic attacks: In some cases, the confrontation with a snake or the thought of a snake can trigger a full-scale panic attack, with intense physical and emotional reactions.
  5. Excessive worry: Prolonged worry about possible encounters with snakes or excessive time and energy spent thinking about snakes or trying to avoid them.
  6. Emotional distress: Feelings of shame or frustration about their fear, especially if it affects the person’s daily life or relationships.

It is important to note that these symptoms are not just a ‘normal’ fear, but are so intense that they can affect the person’s ability to function normally in everyday life. If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from snake phobia, it may be wise to seek professional help to manage it.

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How can ophidiophobia be treated?

The treatment for snake phobia that has shown the best results in research is CBT. It helps you to challenge and change negative thoughts about snakes, but the main approach is exposure therapy, where you are gradually and safely exposed to your fear. Exposure is usually quick and can be treated in a few hours. In some cases, medication for anxiety management can also be used.

It is important to remember that treatment is individualised. Seek help from a licensed health professional to get effective treatment for your phobia.

How therapy can improve your life

Seeking professional help can significantly improve your quality of life. As it gives you effective tools to manage phobias and can change the pattern you have developed that causes anxiety. Seeking help for psychological problems can be embarrassing, but talking to a psychologist or therapist can be incredibly liberating and helpful if you are living with a phobia that hinders your daily life.

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Take the first step to booking a therapy session

Life is too short to let phobias limit you. Therapy is a step in the right direction to help you live a full and rich life. If you or someone you know is living with phobias, professional therapy can make a real difference. Our therapists and psychologists offer a confidential and safe environment to explore and treat your phobias.

12 common questions about ophidiophobia

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational and intense fear or anxiety about a particular object, situation or activity. This fear is usually long-lasting and can be very limiting in daily life.

How are phobias different from ordinary fears?

Ordinary fear is a natural reaction to an actual danger, while a phobia is an exaggerated fear that has no rational explanation. Phobias can be triggered even when there is no actual risk.

Are phobias common?

Yes, phobias are one of the most common forms of mental health problems. Phobias affect about 10 million people in the UK so they are a fairly common anxiety disorder.

What is snake phobia?

Ophidiophobia (snake phobia) is an intense and irrational fear of snakes. It is a specific phobia where the person experiences strong negative emotions, such as anxiety or panic, at the thought or sight of specific snakes.

What causes snake phobia?

The causes of snake phobia are not fully understood, but as with other phobias, it may be a combination of genetic factors, personal experiences and environmental influences.

Is it possible to get rid of a phobia?

Yes, with the right treatment and support, phobic symptoms can be treated. However, it usually requires the help of a licensed psychologist or therapist.

How does treatment work?

Treatment can vary but often involves cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure and medication if necessary.

Can phobias lead to other mental health problems?

Yes, untreated phobias can lead to other problems such as depression or other anxiety disorders if many things related to the phobia are avoided.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

CBT is an active evidence-based treatment method that works on thoughts, feelings and behaviours in different situations to improve quality of life and overcome certain symptoms.

What is exposure in treatment?

Exposure is a tool in CBT where you gradually approach what you are afraid of in a systematic and safe way together with a psychologist or therapist.

I have started to avoid things because I am afraid of meeting or seeing a snake, what can I do?

If you have a fear of snakes that is affecting or limiting your life, you can seek treatment. There is effective help available.

Where can I seek help for my phobia?

If you suffer from a phobia, we recommend that you contact a licensed psychologist or therapist. Book an initial session with one of Lavendla’s therapists. We make the difficult easier.

Treating ophidiophobia with CBT

Treatment can feel overwhelming, but remember that you are not alone in overcoming your fear. There is help available and here is an idea of what treatment might look like:

Understanding and assessment

The first step is to understand that you have a phobia and that it is okay to seek help for it. A licensed psychologist can help you assess your situation and understand what is causing your fear. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your phobia and how it affects you both physically and mentally. It is important to understand what happens in your body, thoughts and feelings when the fear occurs. Goals are also set for treatment.

Tools to change behaviours and patterns

This works on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to the fear. This will help you develop a more nuanced picture and increase your ability to manage the phobia. Exposure therapy can be scary, but it is an effective way to gradually face your fears. With your therapist, you will explore situations that trigger your phobia and learn how to deal with them. You will also be given homework to practice between sessions.

Medication (if needed)

In some cases, doctors may suggest medication to help with anxiety symptoms. This is something you and your doctor can discuss if appropriate.

Follow-up and evaluation of progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book an initial session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how they can help you.

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Written by dominic

Dominic is a Cape Town-based copywriter and editor with a background in psychology.