Tomophobia refers to a severe and irrational fear of surgery or surgical operations. While it is natural for anyone to be nervous when they know they have an impending surgery, surgery represents a situation far too dangerous and life threatening to undergo for the tomophobic.
There have been cases in which people who needed surgery urgently denied their procedures because of tomophobia. These people believed the surgery to be more risky than the illnesses necessitating the procedure. Surgery can indeed be dangerous, just as the tomophobic fears. But, when the patient’s problem calls for a surgical procedure to be done, often times tomophobia can put the patient in greater danger or in a worse situation than he or she was in initially. In other instances, if a patient’s problem does not necessitate surgery immediately or at all, he or she can exacerbate the problem by avoiding surgery.
Symptoms of Tomophobia
Like other phobias, if the sufferer begins to exhibit the following symptoms when presented with the source of fear, he or she may have a genuine phobia. Some of these symptoms are:
- Feelings of dread or panic when the subject of surgery arises
- Automatic or uncontrollable reactions in avoiding the subject or procedure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme avoidance
Causes of Tomophobia
Like all phobias, there is no universally specific cause. Rather, various unique factors and experiences initiate the development of tomophobia. In regards to this specific disorder, some of these experiences could include having witnessed an unsuccessful surgery first or second hand, hypersensitivity, or various other psychological or emotional disorders. Some tomophobics may simply fear being under anesthetics, for they are not aware of what is happening or what is being done to them while they are under. Regardless, the initial factors that incited the irrational fear in the tomophobic are what need to be addressed. If left untreated, tomophobia can ultimately put the sufferer’s health or life in jeopardy. Furthermore, tomophobia may only be an indicator of other psychological disorders that negatively affect other aspects of the patient’s life.
Treatment of Tomophobia
Like many phobias, treatment is usually best left to a mental health practitioner. The goal of any such expert is to first target the initial inciting factor that caused the person’s irrational and extreme fear. The patient and therapist talk about why the fear is unfounded, how they can come to terms with any traumatic experiences that caused the phobia, as well as ways to deal with the symptoms of the condition. This type of therapy is usually very effective, with a vast majority of patients completely overcoming or successfully coping with tomophobia symptom-free for years, if not for the remainder of their lives.
Some therapists opt to use cognitive behavioral therapy. With this type of treatment, the patient meets with the therapist and in a systematic and gradual progression confronts the source of fear while learning to control his or her physical and mental reactions to it. By facing the phobia head on, the patient becomes accustomed to it and thus ultimately realizes that his or her initial fears were not grounded in real or imminent danger. If the sufferer fears surgical procedures, this type of psychotherapy could involve meeting the surgeon or learning more about what specific surgery will have to be administered. Furthermore, understanding why the surgery is necessary or advantageous would also help.
There are plenty of therapists and peer groups willing to help not only with the disorder but also the psychological difficulties attendant with it. If self-help is not working, do not hesitate to reach out to these resources for support.
- American Psychiatric Association – info about phobias in general, causes, treatment.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information – case studies involving people with tomophobia.