People who are phobic automatically develop, in commonplace situations, fear and distress that can intensify uncontrollably to cause unbearable feelings and overwhelming panic. Contextual Therapy finds that in all phobias these terrifying developments are the result of an automatic, fear-generating process. This “phobogenic process” is activated and accelerates as the person involuntarily reacts more and more to growing numbers of imagined dangers and less and less to comforting realities in the phobic situation.
If a trusted person is present or available in reality or in imagination, the phobic person can then react more to comforting realities and less to imagined dangers in the phobic situation. The level of fear then drops or remains controlled and panic is averted.
Recognizing the central role of the phobogenic process in disorganizing body and mental functioning, it is hypothesized that Contextual Therapy slows or inhibits the phobogenic process, and so stops the panic. It does this by creating conditions that reduce the person’s disturbing reaction to unmanageable,imagined dangers and builds up his comforting responses to manageable, existing realities. Mainly, this is achieved by creating a trusted, familiar therapeutic presence for the patient to respond to realistically in the phobic situation. Sometimes this is the therapist, or a recollection of him or of his theory, or of ideas built with his concurrence. The operations of the phobogenic process are then impeded and the rising panic stops. New, constructive experiences and learning can then take place in the phobic situation from which more realistic beliefs, expectations, and behavior can come.
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