Treatment for Acrophobia

Treatment for Acrophobia

Acrophobia (Fear of Heights)

When someone has acrophobia, they have an intense fear of heights, such as being in a tall building or using a ladder. Psychological therapy can treat acrophobia, just like other specific phobias.

What is acrophobia (fear of heights)?

Acrophobia is a mental health condition in which the individual experiences an intense fear/phobia of heights. It’s a type of anxiety disorder. In people with acrophobia, thinking of tall heights or being positioned at a significant height causes intense anxiety. They will often avoid situations or places that involve heights.

Being slightly afraid of heights is normal for everyone, and it's totally acceptable to be cautious when at a significant height. Most of us may feel uneasy or a bit shaky if we look down from a tall height, such as from a bridge. But people with acrophobia experience intense and irrational fear when they’re faced with heights. Being scared of heights can inhibit all sorts of daily tasks. 

What is a phobia of heights and what does it affect 

Acrophobia can affect anyone at any age, just like other phobias. Specific phobias, like acrophobia, are more likely to develop in children and become apparent in adolescents and young adults. 

What kind of heights are people with a phobia of heights afraid of?

Types of heights or situations that people with acrophobia may fear include:

Being on or crossing over a bridge.

Being on a rollercoaster.

Walking up a flight of stairs.

Being on a ladder.

Looking out a window of a tall building.

Using a multi-level parking garage.

Standing near a balcony or at the top of a building.

How to get over the fear of heights?

In addition to other specific phobias, acrophobia can share certain symptoms with vertigo, a medical condition with many possible causes. Thus, if you experience the symptoms of acrophobia, you should seek professional help as soon as possible.

Treatment Options

The good news is that with time and dedication, acrophobia can be overcome. One of the main treatments for acrophobia is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). These behavioral techniques may be used either gradually or rapidly, and the patient is taught how to stop the panicky reaction and how to regain control of their emotions.

Despite the fact that actual exposure to heights is also a treatment for acrophobia, some research indicates that virtual reality may be just as effective.  As for medications, sometimes beta blockers or sedatives can be used for short-term relief as they can relieve panic and anxiety. Acrophobia can usually be treated with psychological treatment (psychotherapy) such as exposure therapy, virtual reality exposure therapy, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy. These kinds of therapy show people how to get over their fear of heights. Let's dig into some of the options: 

Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a common form of psychological treatment used to treat specific phobias. However, a research study published in 2017 demonstrated that virtual reality may be just as effective. A major advantage is a big save on cost and time. People with phobias usually avoid situations that involve the thing they are afraid of. Because of this, they aren’t able to learn that they can manage their fear of heights when presented with their specific phobia or that their feared outcomes often do not happen. Therapists and psychologists use exposure therapy for people who have a phobia to slowly encourage them to enter situations that cause them anxiety, and to try to stay in that situation so that they can learn to cope.

Virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET): Virtual reality exposure therapy is a type of psychological treatment that uses technology to show the person realistic — but fake — situations to help them cope with stressful and anxiety-inducing situations. If you have acrophobia, you may use a virtual reality (VR) headset that will show you simulations that will help you get over your fear of heights. This way, you can be exposed to heights in a completely safe way and feels real but isn’t. Research has shown that virtual reality exposure therapy is effective in treating acrophobia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):  Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the main treatment of choice for specific phobias. CBT is a form of psychological treatment or psychotherapy. Your therapist or psychologist helps you gain a different perspective by talking and asking questions. Behavioral techniques that expose you to the feared situation either gradually (systematic desensitization) or rapidly (flooding) are frequently used. As a result, you learn to respond better to and cope with the stress and anxiety you feel when exposed to things that cause you fear. In addition, you're taught ways of stopping the panic reaction and regaining emotional control.​

What medications are used to treat acrophobia?

Medications aren’t usually used to treat specific phobias like acrophobia. Sometimes people with acrophobia might take medications to temporarily help them relieve symptoms of fear and anxiety to treat their phobia when they’re going through psychological therapy or in unavoidable situations. Medications sometimes used to help treat acrophobia include:

Beta-blockers: Some beta-blockers are used to treat or prevent physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a fast heart rate.

Relaxants (benzodiazepines): Medications like benzodiazepines, which are used to help you relax, can temporarily reduce the amount of anxiety you feel.


Prevention of acrophobia

Healthcare professionals still aren’t sure of the exact cause of acrophobia. So far, they’ve found that the risk factors for developing acrophobia can include:

Falling from a significant height or watching someone else fall from a significant height. 
Experiencing a negative event, such as a panic attack, while in a high place.Have a family history of anxiety disorders.

Action steps

Relax! Relaxation techniques, including meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation, may help an individual to cope with both stress and anxiety. Regular exercise may also help treat your acrophobia and help you overcome your fear of heights.

Get support. Getting over your fear of heights quickly is important to managing a stress-free successful life.  Talk to your doctor about what medications and therapies might help you. If your doctor is unfamiliar with acrophobia, ask for a referral to a mental health professional who can help. Don’t be embarrassed about telling your friends and your family about your phobia of heights, and ask for their support as you get treatment for it. Remember, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans suffer from acrophobia, but it is very treatable. With help and support, you can start managing your phobia of heights and move on with your life.