Acrophobia

Acrophobia is the fear of heights. It is one of several context-dependent specific phobias and is one of the most common phobias.

What Causes Acrophobia?

There is conflicting research about the cause of phobias, including acrophobia. Some psychologists have argued that phobias are caused by early traumatic experiences. In the case of acrophobia, these experiences might include falling from a tree or witnessing someone get hurt from falling from a high place. Acrophobia might also be caused by modeling. For example, children whose parents are afraid of heights are more likely to be acrophobic.

Acrophobia, however, is so common that it may have a genetic component. Heights are a reasonable danger for people to fear, and perhaps fear of heights helps prevent people from taking unnecessary risks, serving to protect the species from extinction. Most people suffer from some degree of acrophobia and feel some discomfort, for example, when standing at a very high ledge.

Not all people experience acrophobia, though, which undermines the claim that fear of heights is genetically programmed into the human species. The severe degree to which some people suffer from acrophobia can be maladaptive, preventing them from living in buildings of more than one story and interfering with daily activities such as climbing stairs. It is likely then that acrophobia is a combination of environmental and genetic components. People with the phobia may also experience other phobias or types of anxiety.

Is There Treatment for Acrophobia?

Therapy can be extremely effective for phobias, including acrophobia. Gradual desensitization, during which someone is exposed progressively to their phobia, is particularly useful, though it can take months or years in some cases to be effective. Because it can be difficult to continually expose a person to heights, many practitioners have used virtual reality to desensitize people with acrophobia, and this treatment is very promising.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help people with acrophobia reframe their phobic thoughts. Medication will not make a phobia go away, but can minimize its symptoms. Medication is particularly helpful if someone must face their fear of heights without therapy. In some cases, physicians may prescribe antidepressants, beta blockers, or sedatives to help with acrophobia.

References:

  1. Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., and Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Last Updated: 08-4-2015

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  • Sarah

    Sarah

    October 15th, 2012 at 1:43 AM

    Acrophobia, like other phobias, may be a ‘hook’ on which other anxiety has become attached. Think of it like this: every time you smell apple pie, it brings back the thought of your mother’s kitchen. The two things are inextricably linked in your subconscious. If you have stress or anxiety or some life change issue, you may suffer a panic attack at height. If so, the height may become the hook for your anxiety. Then you fear another attack so a fear of heights occurs. Hypnotherapy can break the fear-panic-fear link through relearning that experience and finding a hook or link to relaxation instead of anxiety. Such cyclical thought patterns can be broken quite easily.

  • William

    William

    August 26th, 2017 at 2:17 PM

    Bulls***.

  • Jim F

    Jim F

    June 9th, 2017 at 5:50 PM

    How may I get ahold of your VR course so that I may use it at home?

  • Rosie

    Rosie

    August 9th, 2017 at 12:32 AM

    I am in my late 60’s and have suffered from a fear of heights since I was a young girl. My father also suffered from it. I am an ancious person and believe I “hooked” onto this fear. Over the years I have tried many forms of treatment but all it succeeded in doing was making me far more anxious to go out because the fear of facing a height situation was at the forefront of my mind. I would love to be able to get over it but at my age I think it is far too ingrained in to my thinking processes to ever be changed.

  • Lester s.

    Lester s.

    September 9th, 2017 at 1:10 PM

    I am afraid of elevator ecaulator I am even afraid to walk over a bridge that has a high hill can you help me

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    September 9th, 2017 at 6:52 PM

    Dear Lester,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Micah M

    Micah M

    January 4th, 2018 at 4:59 PM

    I’ve always been afraid of heights even though I try to rock climb. I think this will really help! You have a very amazing website. You should be very proud!

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