Biological Treatments of Phobias

Revision cards covering the topic of the biological treatments of phobic disorders, e.g. drugs and psychosurgery.

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  • Created by: Augusta
  • Created on: 30-04-14 12:38

AO1 DRUGS - Anti-Anxiety/Anti-Depressants

Anti-Anxiety Drugs

  • BZs slow down the activity of the central nervous system by enhancing the activity of GABA.
  • GABA is a neurotransmitter, that, when released, has a general quietening effect on many of the neurons in the brain.
  • BBs (Beta-Blockers) reduce the activity of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are part of the sympathomedullary response to stress.
  • They bind to receptors on cells of the heart and other parts of the body to reduce the effect of these hormones.


  • SSRIs are currently the preferred drug for treating anxiety disorders.
  • Increases levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
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AO2 DRUGS - Part 1


+ve: It is proved they work.
+ve: Readily available on the NHS.

-ve: Building up a tolerance so you need more.
-ve: Side effects. People have become suicidal.
-ve: Not treating the underlying cause; just the symptoms.
-ve: Dependence; the patients don't try to help themselves.
-ve: Addiction (linked to tolerance).

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AO2 DRUGS - Part 2

Research Support/Criticism for Anti-Anxiety Drugs

  • Kahn found that BZs were more effective than a placebo at treating anxiety.
  • Hidalgo found that BZs were more effective than anti-depressants.
  • Liebowitz found BBs were more effective in treating anxiety however other research has shown that placebos are just as effective in reducing physiological effects of anxiety.

Research Support for Anti-Depressants

  • Katzelnick found that SSRIs are more powerful than a placebo at reducing anxiety. 
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It is believed that part of the brain is malfunctioning. If a connection to this part of the brain is severed, then psychological symptoms may be relieved.

Capsulotomy and Cingulotomy

  • Removal of connection to the capsule or cingulum.
  • These parts of the brain are associated with emotion - they are part of the limbic system.
  • Operations are irreversible; only performed as a last resort.

Deep Brain Simulation

  • Involves placing wires in target areas in the brain.
  • Wires are connected to a battery in the patient's chest.
  • When current is on, this interrupts the target circuits in the brain.
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Research Support

Ruck studied 26 patients who had undertaken capsulotomy, due to persistent anxiety.

  • The patients had suffered for over five years prior to surgery, experiencing a significant decrease in psychosocial functioning.
  • Other treatments had been exhausted.
  • The mean pre-operative anxiety score was 22.
  • The mean post-operative anxiety score was 4.6.
  • Suggests treatment was successful.

However, 7 of the patients had attempted suicide following surgery, 2 having suffered from epileptic fits.

-ve Szasz criticises psychosurgery because he claims the psyche is not something physical that can be operated on.

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