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Counseling can often be helpful for emetophobia.
Credit: Castillo Dominici

To quickly summarize last week’s post on emetophobia, we covered that it is a really ovewhelming anxiety response to the idea or feeling of throwing up.  We also covered that one of the first things done to treat it in therapy is determining the fear’s origin.


The next step taken is to find out what things are avoided because of the fear.  For example, does the emetophobic refuse to eat sushi?  Does the emetophobic wish to go on a cruise, but won’t because of the reputation cruises have for viral outbreaks?  What else is avoided?  I knew someone when I was younger who wouldn’t drink alcohol because he associated drinking with throwing up.


Then we find out what the safety behaviors are.  When I was more frightened of vomiting than I am now, I would make sure there was medication in my purse for a stomach ache.  Sometimes safety behaviors don’t even really relate to the problem.  Someone with emetophobia might make sure she always wears a lucky bracelet because she has never gotten the flu since she bought the bracelet.


With the list of avoided behaviors and safety behaviors in hand, a fear hierarchy is created.  This is when therapist and client work together to make a list of most scary event to least scary event.  At the top would likely be “vomiting.”  At the bottom might be something like, “Write the word ‘vomit’ and all its synonyms on a piece of paper and then read them out loud.”  Yes, for someone with emetophobia even that can induce anxiety.


Together we work our way up the fear hierarchy as much as possible.  Some things can’t be replicated in therapy.  For example, a therapist doesn’t really have a way of making a client actually vomit, so they probably aren’t going to do that in a counseling session.  A therapist can have a client imagine doing it though, which still helps alleviate overall anxiety when done properly.


The point of all this is to say, emetophobia is almost always treatable.  If you or your teenager is living a less fulfilling life because of a fear of throwing up, please call.  It doesn’t have to stay this way.  Things can improve if you’re willing to put in a little work.  One of us here at Teen Therapy OC would be honored to walk through this difficult journey with you.  I personally have been quite afraid of it at one point in my life, and had to work myself back to a place of it not interfering with my daily happiness.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT