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What is the purpose of a counterphobic object to a person suffering from anxiety?

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enotes | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:17 PM via web

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What is the purpose of a counterphobic object to a person suffering from anxiety?

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Michelle Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 12, 2014 at 5:38 PM (Answer #1)

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Like the term implies, a COUNTER phobic  is something meant to produce the opposite reaction to anxiety, phobia, or fear. By definition, it is a focal point represented by an object or a person. The idea is that said object or person will be immediately correlated to something that deflects the emotional economy spent on an anxiety episode.

According to Donald Winnicott's 1953 paper "Transitional objects and transitional phenomena, a study of the first not-me possession", the physical qualities of the object, or the human presence itself, are not what qualifies them as "counter-phobic". Instead, what matters is the significance that the individual places upon the object, regardless of what it looks like, feels like, or is like. Hence, it is the effect that such object or person exerts over what Winnicott calls the psychic economy what actually nulls the effects of anxiety in the ill individual.

An example of a counterphobic object would be a religious object, or a token. In Alcoholics Anonymous sobriety is rewarded with coins that represent the effort and time that the addict has invested in ensuring that he or she would stay sober for good. Whenever anxiety strikes, the holding of the coin, a token of achievement, may signify the shifting from a potential moment of failure to a successful moment of peace. Hence, the counterphobic object would have accomplished its goal of helping the patient shift paradigms and avoid a chaotic event.

Another counterphobic focus could be humming, holding a pet, staring at a visual, or creating one in your mind. Through meditative techniques, visualization can help the sufferer achieve a "moment of zen" where they can quietly shift their anxiety through imagining another moment, place, or time.

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