Ophidiophobia is an exaggerated fear of snakes. It is a phobia, which means that it is an irrational type of fear.
The condition is actually a subset of a larger phobic condition known as herpetophobia which is the fear of reptiles. Most people around the world feel somewhat nervous when they are near an actual snake. However, those who suffer from ophidiophobia are so afraid of snakes that it can affect the quality of their lives.
There are basically two forms of ophidiophobia. There is a milder form of the phobia, and there is a more severe form of the condition. The symptoms are quite different for each form. In those with the milder form of the phobia, symptoms will only be present when a person is in the actual presence of a snake. Some will have a reaction only to large or venomous snakes, and others will have a symptomatic reaction to snakes of any size and type.
In the more severe form of the phobia, the one suffering from the condition may experience symptoms when he or she sees a picture of a snake. He or she may not be able to go to the zoo or a pet store for fear of seeing a snake. Seeing a snake in a movie may cause symptoms. Some will even experience symptoms when they see what they perceive to be a snake such as an extension cord or a garden hose. A person may avoid going for a hike or to the lake for fear of encountering a snake.
Mental health professionals are not entirely certain as to the exact cause of this phobia. However, there are some highly regarded theories as to why the phobia develops.
Some mental health professionals believe that the condition has an evolutionary cause that is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. The theory is that early humans had a survival instinct that made them innately afraid of any predatory or harmful animal. Large and venomous snakes would have been a threat to early humans, so humans would have been fearful of them and would have avoided them if at all possible. This fear passed through the evolutionary history of the human race.
Genetic factors are also thought to be a possible cause of this phobia. Doctors know that if there is a family history of ophidiophobia, those in future generations are more likely to have the phobia.
Many mental health professionals believe that the phobia is the result of an especially traumatic experience that a person has had with a snake. For instance, if a child has had a snake attempt to bite him, or if a child had a snake hiss at him, that child is likely to be very afraid of snakes. Many people who are actually bitten by a snake will develop a fear of snakes that will last throughout their lifetimes.
One other possible cause of ophidiophobia is a cultural aversion to snakes in some parts of the world. In some cultures, the snake is seen as a symbol of evil. The serpent in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is an example. These cultural and religious aversions to snakes often combine with the general feeling of unease around snakes, setting some people up for a phobic condition and exaggerated fear.
Most of those with this particular phobia will not seek treatment. For many, the symptoms are mild enough that they are not a major hindrance to a person’s lifestyle. However, for those who have severe symptoms that affect the way that they conduct their relationships, treatment is appropriate.
One of the main treatments for this phobia is desensitization. Desensitization is used with the help of a qualified mental health professional such as a licensed therapist. The desensitization process often starts with the therapist slowly trying to get the patient comfortable just looking at a picture of a snake. This may progress to the patient handling a toy snake and becoming comfortable with that. Over time, the patient may be able to get near a snake that is in an aquarium. The patient may even be able to touch a snake.
Another treatment that is effective for some of those with this phobia is hypnosis. This is used as a way to help people to relax during the desensitization process.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to help people with ophidiophobia. The therapist and the patient will have conversations in which the therapist will try to get the patient to understand why they are experiencing fearful reactions to snakes. The therapist is attempting to discover the underlying cause. The therapist attempts to help the patient replace the negative feelings they are experiencing with positive thoughts and facts.
Some patients have such extreme forms of ophidiophobia that they will require medications to help control the phobia. Anti-anxiety medications are most often used to treat the condition, but anti-depressants are also used to treat some patients. Normally, a patient does not have to take these medications for an extended period. They are useful to help the patient at the initial point of therapy. Some patients may only need to use an anti-anxiety medication if they are going to be in a situation where a snake will be present, such as going to visit a family member that has a pet snake.
The best way to prevent the occurrence of this phobia is for parents and other adults to not foster an exaggerated fear of snakes in the children who are under their care. If a child sees a snake, it is important that the parent or caregiver remain calm. If the child notices that the caregiver is not in an agitated state, the child will not associate the snake with something that one needs to be overly fearful of.
It is often helpful to present snakes and reptiles in a more positive light. Snakes are often depicted as evil, but they provide important benefits to the overall environmental health of the planet. If those who are fearful of snakes are educated as to their positive role in the world, it may lessen the fear that an individual experiences in the presence of a snake.