Should School Phobia be Taken at Face Value?

A recent article in the Mail Online reminded me of a young mother I saw last September.  The article was entitled “ Youngster suffers from 'school phobia' ” and spoke of a young girl of 11 years who had been diagnosed with school phobia ( for those not familiar with the term Didaskaleinophobia!)

The mother came to see me because she feared her daughter had school phobia and wanted me to help rid her of it.   I didn't use any hypnosis or NLP, I simply spoke (at first) to both the girl and her mother and then the girl on her own as her mother waited a few feet outside of the room with the door open.

As it turns out the young girl was being badly bullied at school and was fearful of both causing her parents distress (there was a lot of stress in the household already due to her father losing his job and her mother being in and out of hospital) and also of possible repercussions.

My point in all of this is that the definition of a phobia is;

 "A persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear of a specific thing or situation that compels one to avoid it, despite the awareness and reassurance that it is not dangerous."

In my opinion it would be foolhardy to just accept that a child is avoiding school because of an irrational or abnormal fear.  Good questioning techniques and history taking are vital to any therapist and it is also very important that you are seen to be listening and paying attention, approachable and understanding. 

As a therapist, you may be the only person that a child feels comfortable sharing the fact that they are being bullied.  Indeed the young lady in question told me that the one time she did approach a teacher at the school, nothing was done about it and so she bottled it up inside as “it wasn't worth telling anyone about because she deserved it.”

Of course, it is entirely possible to have an irrational fear of anything, given that the amygdala will store anything and everything associated to a traumatic situation which could then be misrepresented and included as an irrational fear, so yes someone could easily have an irrational fear of school.

However I believe that it is our duty to give the person sat in front of us for that 1 hour session our complete and undivided attention, respect and compassion because believe me, there is nothing irrational or abnormal about not being able to sleep at night because you are being bullied at school.

The other thing that may be worth thinking about (in light of this particular case) is the message we are sending as a therapist if we don't get to the bottom of a problem and simply go ahead and treat a phobia.  Would the girl in question who already thought “she deserved it” and dare not share the problem with her parents have been even more convinced that she was indeed correct?  If  I had merely continued with her mothers wishes and given her treatment for a phobia therefore helping to compound that fact that she was indeed the problem?

While we shouldn't automatically assume that a child with school phobia is being bullied, I urge you to consider this and keep an open mind.

© Brian Watson 2013