The OCD Center of Los Angeles often receives calls from people seeking treatment for various phobias. One of the most common phobias we treat is emetophobia – the intense fear of vomit and/or vomiting.
Most people who call us with emetophobia are initially quite surprised to learn that this problem has a name, and often equally surprised to learn that they are not the only person in the world to suffer with it. Often, they have secretly struggled with emetophobia for years. Some have been misdiagnosed with anorexia or depression, and as a result, have wasted years being inappropriately treated for conditions they don’t have.
While the primary fear in emetophobia seems quite simple (the sufferer is terrified by the possibility of vomiting, and/or the possibility of seeing others vomit), the individual’s response to this fear can become quite complex. Often the person with emetophobia spends hours every day focused on monitoring and controlling how their gastro-intestinal (GI) tract feels. As a result, every meal becomes a battle to ensure that they never feel any GI discomfort such as gas, cramps, fullness, nausea, etc. In practical terms, this often means having very restricted diets because the client is afraid of any food that they believe may possibly lead to any GI distress. This also often means that restaurants, parties, and family gatherings are simply off limits, as the client may fear eating even “safe” foods any place but home.
In many cases, the client has adopted numerous non-food based avoidant strategies in an effort to ensure they never experience any GI distress. This can include avoidance of television programs or movies with images they fear will cause GI distress, not driving or flying, and avoidance of socializing with friends whom they associate with the possibility of GI distress.
Unfortunately, family and friends of people with emetophobia are often dismissive of the suffering experienced by the individual with this sometimes crippling problem. Equally problematic are family members who enable and accommodate the problem, which usually results in a worsening of symptoms.
Fortunately, emetophobia responds extremely well to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While this treatment requires a strong commitment on the part of the client, the results can be life changing. If one is willing to challenge their fears, they can, over a relatively short period of time, regain normal eating habits, and put an end to the avoidant strategies so commonly seen in emetophobia.
•Tom Corboy, MFT, is the director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related conditions, including Emetophobia. In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment. To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.