Emetophobia – How can therapy help?


In a recent article from BBC News we learnt of a young woman’s fear of vomiting, also known as Emetophobia which affects thousands of people in the UK.  Emetophobes have a fear of vomiting, seeing others being sick, feeling nauseous or seeing vomitus – the phobia is often characterised by avoidance behaviours for example the sufferer may restrict their diet or avoid going out in public.

There is limited research on Emetophobia although studies are growing on this particular fear.  Some research suggests a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach can be successful in the treatment of Emetophobia, specifically one study found that CBT along with teaching on the cause and consequences of the phobia (psychoeducation), graded exposure therapy and interoceptive exposure therapy can be effective in treating those who suffer with emetophobia.

Firstly, CBT can help by identifying the thoughts that are triggering the feelings and/or behaviours leading to the creation of a ‘vicious cycle’.  For instance, anxiety can lead to avoidance behaviours which in turn prevent the sufferer discovering that their fears are unfounded.  Cognitive restructuring can also help the individual evaluate the accuracy and helpfulness of maladaptive thoughts by replacing them with alternatives that don’t provoke distress and enable them to face their fears and discover that there is no actual danger.

Additionally, graded exposure therapy has been shown to be useful by way of gradually confronting an individual with his/her fear and many studies have used computer generated environments to facilitate this.  Interoceptive exposure therapy is used to get individuals to induce bodily sensations associated with certain phobias, for example, Emetophobes may be instructed to eat foods they would usually avoid for fear of being sick in order to eventually reduce the anxiety in response to these sensations.  Exposure therapy is a type of learning procedure used to attempt to break the fear response present when a person is exposed to his/her fear.  This type of therapy has been shown to be effective in the treatment of phobias.

However, to ensure longer term relief of symptoms, treatment could also look at identifying and resolving what has made the sufferer vulnerable to developing the difficulties in the first place.  Using a CBT approach could aide in this process as research has shown; Emetophobia is often developed following a traumatic childhood event, usually involving vomitus.

For more information on Emetophobia visit Anxiety UK.

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