Today, I want to talk to you about the diagnosis of agoraphobia. When you think of agoraphobia, you may tend to think of people stuck in the house or not wanting to leave the house. This happens quite often in someone with a diagnosis of agoraphobia, but in this post, I’ll talk to you more about what agoraphobia is, why it occurs, and how to seek treatment.
What is Agoraphobia?
With any diagnosis, a person’s functioning needs to be impaired in order to be considered a disorder. What that means is that they’re not able to function optimally in school, work, socially, etc. There is a significant level of impairment in some area of functioning.
Specifically, a person who has agoraphobia has an intense fear of going into any situation usually outside of their home. The fear is of experiencing some kind of panic-like symptoms or something else like that where they will be extremely embarrassed.
It’s usually about a fear of experiencing anxiety or embarrassment or shame or something of the sort in front of other people where you can’t escape.
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Where Do People Experience Agoraphobia?
Some places where this fear arise might be waiting in line at a store or open spaces like concert halls or public transportation. This is actually a big one.
If you don’t want to get on a train because there’s no way to escape or an airplane you can’t get off if you were to have a panic-like symptom, what often happens is people with agoraphobia wind up not wanting to do these things unless they’re in the company of a safe companion or a “safety person.”
What winds up happening is, if you’re feeling that uncomfortable going out into a situation, you wind up just not going. And then, your world becomes smaller and smaller and smaller…
“I’m not going to go there.”
“It’s just too anxiety-provoking for me.”
“I’m not going to go to the store.”
“I’m not going to go to that party.”
All of a sudden, your world becomes tiny because your safe zone is your house, or just your bedroom. This happens progressively. If you’re experiencing this, my first recommendation would have would be to call a mental health professional to seek treatment.
What is the Best Treatment for Agoraphobia?
Treatment for agoraphobia can include Exposure and Response Prevention, Behavior Therapy, or Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Even you’re starting to struggle or you notice your loved one showing some signs of struggle, seeking treatment can be helpful preventative care.
However, now is an unusual time, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic. During this COVID-19 pandemic, people with agoraphobia, like all of us, are pretty confined to our homes right now. That does pose another challenge to the treatment of agoraphobia, because normally the treatment of this would be to encourage people to go out.
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How Does Agoraphobia Develop?
The treatment for agoraphobia, called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), abides by this theory: The reason anxiety disorders develop is because people avoid what causes them anxiety.
Just let that settle in for a second! The reason anxiety disorders develop is because people continue to avoid this thing that they think is causing the anxiety. So, to treat agoraphobia, we have to have people we face their fears.
That’s probably something you’ve heard your whole life, right? It’s a little more technical than that, but the general idea is true! As a psychologist, I want to encourage people to gradually start going into situations that are fear inducing.
We do that with different kinds of techniques, including Exposure and Response Prevention. Exposure and Response Prevention helps you facing your fears gradually, under the guidance of a mental health practitioner who is trained in ERP.
How We Can Treat Agoraphobia, Even During COVID-19
So, you may be wondering, “How in the world are we supposed to have people with agoraphobia going out into public places during a global pandemic?”
You know, I’m a little bit stuck on this and don’t have all the answers. However, I think sticking with your mental health professional while this is going on is key.
We can be creative! We can still FaceTime people. We can still go for a walk outside. We can still get out of the house. We can still go to a grocery store. We can still do certain things that will help us in treatment.
How to Find a Mental Health Professional for Agoraphobia Treatment
As I always recommend, if you had or have agoraphobia or know anybody who who has symptoms of agoraphobia, please feel free to reach out to a mental health professional.
New York Behavioral Health continues to be here for you through the pandemic. Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like more information. You can also schedule an appointment right here on our website. Even though we’re challenged right now with the treatment of such a disorder, we can still make some progress and continue to receive help.