Fear is an emotion, and an uncomfortable one. We feel it when we are scared. We are scared in order to protect something valuable to us. This is the role fear plays. We are afraid so that we can engage ourselves physically and mentally, as well as emotionally, to protect what’s important to us. If we succeed in this, fear is useful, i.e. we have successfully been afraid.
But, in many situations, not only do we not succeed in protecting anything, but we lower the quality of our life by feeling fear when it is unnecessary.
But why do we feel fear when it is not necessary? Sometimes we judge the situation in a wrong way, therefore our fears are inadequate and irrational. However, the problem is mainly emotional in nature, i.e. we are dealing with some unfinished business from the past (speaking in gestalt therapy terms).
When working with phobias, it is important to distinguish if we are dealing with a phobia that is the result of a trauma (I have already written about certain aspects of PTSD), or a phobia which is the result of defense mechanisms.
In the second case, the problem is that we do not allow ourselves to be aware of what we truly fear (usually something from a long time ago, from childhood). We then “shift” this fear onto an object that isn’t threatening at all, and this is perfectly clear to us. People usually understand that there is no reason to be afraid of a spider for example, but, they don’t understand why they fear the spider at all. The answer is that the person fears something else, but isn’t allowing himself/herself to become fully aware of it.
If the phobia symptoms are intense and if the client urgently needs to “get rid of” the phobia, as a temporary solution, we use medication therapy and/or the client can be taught exposure and desensitization techniques.
Why do I find this solution temporary? If we don’t deal with the core issue, the general quality of our life will not improve, i.e. the problem will take on some other form. On the other hand, if we deal with the core issue, we will discover a lot about ourselves. We will come to realize that this problem, just like any other problem, represents our message to ourselves. A message that there is an important aspect of our being which we are not aware of. When we become aware of it, we benefit from it greatly.
How do we become aware of it? Gestalt therapy, as always, focuses on the “here and now”. Which means that troubling situations from the past are brought into the present, so that we can feel those feelings we cut off or repressed. Which means we are allowing ourselves to be aware of what we were originally afraid of. We come to understand that it is alright to be scared, whatever it is we were scared of. There is nothing we shouldn’t be afraid of. As usual in gestalt therapy, we form and assert an opinion – “everything that is human is familiar to me”.
So, fear, even though it is uncomfortable, may be of great use to us, and if it isn’t – it is of use to us, because it represents a message that is essential for our emotional growth. When we become aware of this message, we stop feeling scared.

Danijela Stojanovic, clinical psychologist and therapist