Fiction & Phobias

Photo by Stuart Miles, from

Photo by Stuart Miles, from

This series is inspired by two of my favorite television characters: Adrian Monk and Doc Martin. For those of you who haven’t watched Monk, Adrian Monk is a detective suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder along with an extensive list of phobias such as dentists, germs and needles – to name a few.  Then there is Doc Martin, a brilliant surgeon who developed a sudden fear of blood forcing him to resign as a surgeon and take a position as a general practitioner.

Why do I love these characters? Because their anxiety disorders and the way they react to their fears gives them depth and makes them unique.  Every week, I watched as Adrian Monk was forced to confront one of his fears – usually germs – while solving heinous crimes.  That television show was a fantastic example of writers torturing the main character.


The thing is, the more I watched these television shows, the more I wondered about phobias.  Is there really a medical term to describe every fear?  Through a little research, I found that there seems to be a medical term for every fear imaginable.  Today’s blog is a basic overview of phobias.  First, let me say that I am not a physician and the purpose of this discussion is not to provide medical advice or a diagnosis so please do not use this blog for either reason.  If you or someone you know is suffering from an anxiety disorder/phobia, please seek professional medical help. Also, it is not the intention of this series of blogs or Pilcrow & Dagger to demean or make light of any individual(s) who suffers from anxiety disorders or phobias.  

The goal of this and subsequent discussions about various phobias is to provide writers details needed to create authentic characters, giving them unique personalities and challenges that will keep readers coming back for more.  

Here’s what you need to know.

All phobias are anxiety disorders.  They can stem from bad experiences or have a sudden onset – such as the case of Doc Martin who developed a fear of blood out of no where.

Generally phobias are treated through either medication, therapy or both.  Let’s talk briefly about medication.  Pharmacophobia is the fear of medicine. According to Wikipedia, pharmacophobia can result from bad experiences people have had with prescription medication – such as side effects.  

Also according to Wikipedia, the best form of treatment is get the patient to take small doses of a test medicine (or in the case of side effects – a different medication) until he is comfortable taking pills and no longer associates medications with bad experiences. This is also an example of systematic desensitization therapy – the process of gradually exposing the patient to the object of his phobia, increasing the exposure over time.

The other form of therapy used is called flooding. Under this technique, the patient is forced to confront his fears. With the guidance of the therapist, the patient would then use a number of relaxation techniques to control his anxiety.

But wait! What if the patient who suffers from pharmacophobia also suffers from a fear of therapists?  Is there a fear of therapists?  I searched for it but couldn’t find any phobias specifically related to therapists but there is iatrophobia – fear of doctors. Is it possible for someone who suffers from pharmacophobia could also suffer from iatrophobia? How would this person seek treatment?  

Then of course there is phobophobia – fear of having fears which could be tied together with iatrophobia. This individual could be afraid that if he seeks medical help the doctor will tell him he has a phobia.  It would be interesting to see a writer create a character with all three of these phobias.

How to torture your character

If your character has pharmacophobia it would be interesting to see how he handles working in a superstore with a pharmacy, in particular if it’s his job to stock the shelves where the over-the-counter-drugs are kept.

If your character has iatrophobia put him in a situation where he can’t avoid doctors, such as a minor accident that requires treatment at an emergency room.

If your character has phobophobia, make him attend group therapy for people who suffer from other phobias.  See how fast it takes him to add hypochondria to his list of diagnoses.




Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: