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          Afraid of Cats and Dogs

          November 15, 2002

          Alicia has been afraid of dogs and cats for as long as she can remember.
           
          “When I think of animals, I feel horrified,” she says. Alicia drives to her mailbox from her house to avoid any possible run-in with an animal, and says she can’t ever take a walk in the neighborhood.
           
          Her husband, Robert, calls her fear “annoying,” and wishes she could “just get over it.” He gets frustrated when Alicia stays home instead of visiting their friends because there’s a dog in the house, and he sees the fear being passed on to their children, especially their 2-year-old.
           
          “Does it register intellectually that a little kitten could not be a real threat to you?” asks Dr. Phil, pointing out that there is a difference between rational and irrational fears.
           
          Phobias can be debilitating, and they are very real for those who have them. But they are treatable. The average treatment to eliminate a phobia from your life is between four and six hours.
           
          Dr. Phil suggests Alicia try self-administered “systematic desensitization,” which means simply exposing herself to the stimuli when she’s relaxed.
           
          To get started, Dr. Phil says Alicia can pair relaxation with a picture of a dog or a cat. He offers her a video called “Nighty Night” that features animals — assuring her that since she can hit the stop or pause button, she can watch it at a pace that feels comfortable.
           
          “Nighty Night” is produced by a Dr. Phil staff member, but is not affiliated with Dr. Phil. To order a tape, visit www.nightynightvideo.com or call toll free (800) 597-9250.

           

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