"People usually feel ashamed of their health-care phobia," says psychologist Elaine Rodino, PhD, who has a private practice in Santa Monica, Calif., and helped organize a dental phobia continuing-education program in 2000 for APA's Div. 42 (Psychologists in Independent Practice). "They might never go to the doctor or dentist or talk about it. But there is an obvious danger to not getting medical treatment. Avoiding medical treatment can be life-threatening."
Meanwhile, another group of health phobic people doesn't so much fear treatment for a disease as the disease itself. And, the public's health anxieties may be getting worse. A recent study shows that the more a society promotes healthy lifestyles, the more people worry about their health and the sicker they feel, according to general practitioner Iona Heath, MD, in the April 23 British Medical Journal (Vol. 330, No. 7,497, pages 954–956). The study found that people living in Bihar, India--the poorest state in India--self-reported less illness than did people in the United States, where greater contemporary health care and preventive care is available.
To help people face their health fears and anxieties about health care and treatment, psychologists have developed a host of interventions incorporating virtual reality, hypnosis or cognitive-behavioral techniques that gradually expose health phobic patients to fear-inducing situations.
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