Animal Planet, a cable television channel, will be launching a new reality series starting October 21st featuring people suffering from severe animal phobias.

Titled, 'My Extreme Animal Phobia,' the program will be hosted by Robin Zasio, a clinical psychologist, who will employ exposure therapy to help guests in an inpatient clinical setting overcome their extreme animal fears. Through counseling, she will also attempt to help her patients uncover the origins of their phobias.

In the first episode, three phobic individuals will be featured, including a large tattooed man who cowers upon seeing a pit bull puppy, a woman who severely restricts her family's outings for fear of spiders, and a man whose negative childhood experiences with a snake have deeply impacted his daily life.

What Does Having a Phobia Feel Like?

Individuals who exhibit disproportionate fears of a particular object, animal or situation that lead them to alter their routines and habits may be diagnosed with a specific phobia. Affected people may avoid situations, limit their exposure to the outside world and devise complex methods of restricting themselves to eliminate even the slightest possibility of exposure to the feared stimuli. In later episodes of the reality program, for example, a man's irrational fear of bats renders him unable to leave home at night, while another guest refuses to run her air conditioning lest spiders come spewing out.

While representative of an anxiety disorder, phobias are generally classified in specific terms based on the type of fear. Those subsets include social anxiety disorder, or SAD, agoraphobia, and specific phobias.

Common Phobias

SAD, or social phobia, is a form of anxiety triggered by social or public situations with the predominant fear of embarrassment leading people to avoid situations and change their environments. Though some degree of distress is common in a performance setting, those with social phobia experience a level of anxiety about being poorly judged that is excessive, restrictive and ultimately debilitating.

Agoraphobia refers to a fear of large, uncontained areas where escape may be restricted. The condition is sometimes present with panic disorder, with individuals avoiding places and situations out of fear that they will experience a panic attack and be inaccessible to outside help.

Specific phobias account for those that involve an irrational fear of a particular trigger. Common fears include those of a particular animal, spider or rodent, as well as fears of falling, of loud sounds, of heights, of being injured, of driving or flying, or of being in tight spaces, known as claustrophobia. The fear may trigger physical, panic-like symptoms such as sweating, fast breathing, and nausea.

Conquering a Phobia

Treatment usually involves a form of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavior therapy, and exposure therapy where the patient is slowly exposed to the item he fears until he eventually becomes desensitized to that object. Medications are sometimes used as well along with alternative treatments such as abdominal breathing exercises, to help reduce stress.

In the reality program, participants will be guided through a five-day exposure session to address their fears under the guidance of Zasio. The licensed psychologist hopes viewers suffering from specific phobias will be motivated to seek help after watching the program.

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Date of original publication:

Updated: June 30, 2017