The psychodynamics of phobias

Calvin Hall presents a view of phobias which to my mind carries some merit.


I don’t think it applies in all cases and there can be incidences of phobias that can result from traumas or specific parenting in the past.

For instance I recently treated a young child with encopresis. He refused to sit on the toilet and if he did he suffered significant fear similar to a phobia. His father had previously told him a story about the toilet monster. He was told that when he sat on the toilet it would come up and bite him. This phobia could be seen to be directly related to a specific type of parenting.

However many other phobias are similar to what Calvin Hall describes.

If a person has a fear of spiders one asks the question – what is it about the spider that is fearful for you?. One may need to do this a number of times before some of the unconscious information can surface. But eventually the person will describe a number of characteristics about the spider that has importance for them. These characteristics will then represent something about their own personality. Some feature they like, or hate, or want, or envy in others, reminds them of mother and so forth. The Child ego state identifies with that feature, which is of considerable importance to them and then makes it scary as a way to deal with it.

Caravan 2

In the case of a fear of heights

Therapist: “What is the anxiety about?”

Client; “I have a fear of heights”

Therapist: “Tell me what happens?”

Client: “When I get close to the edge I get dizzy and can imagine myself falling down”

Therapist: “How would you get to falling down?”

Client: “I feel this urge to climb over the barrier and jump down and then I can see myself falling and people watching me”

Therapist: “Why would you climb over the barrier?”

Client; “I don’t know. I feel this compulsion or urge inside to do it. That I wont be able to control it and I will just suddenly do it.”

This is no longer a fear of heights but is about the person’s internal sense of control and wants. He recognises in him what is sometimes called an impulse control disorder. The id or Child ego state impulses can’t be controlled and the person may act them out. Alternatively he may be a very controlled person and the Child ego state has fantasies of acting in an uncontrolled or impulsive way. Not uncommon in OCD personalities.

As a result we can see what was originally a phobia, upon closer examination is not a phobia. It is about what the person feels he can’t control or what he desires in his personality.

Injunctions under phobias

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