What is emetophobia?

Emetophobia, or vomit phobia, refers to an intense fear of vomiting. People who are emetophobic experience an overwhelming reaction to vomiting or seeing other people vomit. They often worry about becoming sick or that others will find them gross.

This phobia is relatively rare, occurring in about .1% of the population; however, a general fear of vomiting is quite common with prevalence rates from about 3 to 8%. Women experience higher rates than men.

Emetophobics frequently avoid situations that could trigger their fears of vomiting. For instance, they may avoid certain restaurants, grocery stores, or places where they could become nauseous. Avoidance behaviors can lead to a very limiting life and cause significant distress in relationships. They may even avoid interacting with certain people, like babies or toddlers for fear of becoming sick. Some women have avoided becoming pregnant to avoid morning sickness. Staying away from certain foods and medications is also common. Many people with a vomit phobia feel depressed, anxious, lonely, and have associated chronic health conditions.

Treatment for Emetophobia

Emetophobia can lead to dire circumstances if left untreated. Fortunately, psychological treatments are available that can effectively treat this phobia. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and hypnotherapy have all been successfully utilized to help people overcome emetophobia.

EMDR: Traumatic memories related to the experience of vomit can set the course of emetophobia. Earlier experiences in which a person encounters a disturbance connected to vomit or feeling nauseous can cause a phobia to develop. The maladaptive storage of memories linked to the emotional part of the brain creates subsequent emotional distress and negative thought patterns. EMDR therapy is a well-known therapy used for trauma processing. EMDR involves an 8 phase protocol focused on resolving disturbing life events.

This therapy relies on bilateral stimulation (BLS) to facilitate the resolution of dysfunctional memories that become activated in the present. BLS can take the form of eye movements, tapping, or audio stimulation. The BLS is used while the person recalls distressing events along with the negative beliefs that are associated with the memories, such as “I can’t handle it” or “I am powerless.” Once the distressing memories are processed, positive beliefs are then internalized, such as “I am safe” or “I am in control”. Emetophobia frequently encompasses somatic complaints, such as nausea, muscle tension, heart racing, sweating, and shakiness. EMDR therapy addresses these complaints as well.

CBT: CBT is the most used psychological treatment for emetophobia. Exposure to the feared stimulus can significantly help a person overcome emetophobia. The brain eventually relearns and reprocesses negative associations with the feared response.

Specifically, CBT incorporates in vivo exposure therapy and interoceptive exposure.

  • In vivo exposure is a technique used to gradually expose a person to anxiety-provoking stimuli, such as vomit, within a safe environment. A CBT specialist will work with you to develop effective coping skills in anticipation of the exposures. Together, you will develop a hierarchy of exposures from least to most challenging.

For instance, you might start looking at words on a card, then cartoon illustrations, and then move up to watching videos of people vomiting. You are guided and supported along each of these steps so that you are successful along the way.

  • Interoceptive exposure refers to CBT technique of deliberately inducing physical sensations that are safe but feared. For example, you may be guided to twirl around in circles to feel nauseous with the goal of learning that this sensation is normal and safe. Mindfulness and cognitive reframing are tools that can facilitate this learning. With mindfulness, you learn to accept your present state without judgment. Cognitive reframing helps you identify unwanted thinking and change your thoughts into more helpful ones. For example, instead of thinking “I can’t handle this sensation”, a more helpful thought is “Although is not comfortable, I can handle this and I will be fine.”

Hypnotherapy: Hypnosis for emetophobia relies on using suggestions targeted to facilitate behavior change. Hypnotherapy suggestions are tailored for your specific fears. These suggestions are given to you while you are in a trance state or a deep state of relaxation. You will also learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, that you can use anytime to reduce anxiety.

emetophobia treatment

How We Can Help

If you are suffering from emetophobia or vomit phobia and would like to talk to Dr. Mazzei about how she can help you, follow these simple steps:

  1. Text today at (480) 448-6755 or e-mail us for a free consultation
  2. Or, you can book directly online with Dr. Mazzei
  3. Begin your journey towards a fulfilling and healthier life

Dr. Mazzei offers both in-person counseling in Chandler, AZ, and online counseling if you live in Arizona, Illinois, or Nevada. Her private practice is located at 3377 S. Price Rd. Suite 2104, Chandler, AZ.