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Agoraphobia is a form of anxiety disorder. The word is an English adoption of the Greek words agora and phobia. Literally translated as "a fear of the marketplace", agoraphobia is a fear of open or public spaces where help in an emergency might not be readily available. Many people suffering from agoraphobia, however, are not afraid of the open spaces themselves, but of situations often associated with these spaces, such as social gatherings. Others are comfortable seeing visitors, but only in a defined space they feel in control of. Such a person may live for years without leaving his home, while happily seeing visitors and working, as long as they can stay within their safety zone.

An agoraphobic experiences severe panic attacks during situations where they feel trapped, insecure, out of control, or too far from their personal comfort zone. During severe bouts of anxiety, the agoraphobic is confined not only to their home, but to one or two rooms and they may even become bedbound until their over-stimulated nervous system can quiet down, and their adrenaline levels return to a more normal level.

Agoraphobics are often extremely sensitised to their own bodily sensations, sub-consciously over-reacting to perfectly normal events. To take one example, the exertion involved in climbing a flight of stairs may be the cause for a fullblown panic attack, because it increases the heartbeat and breathing rate, which the agoraphobic interprets as the start of a panic attack instead of a normal fluctuation.

Agoraphobia can be successfully treated in many cases through a very gradual process of graduated exposure therapy combined with cognitive therapy and sometimes anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.

One example of a case of agoraphobia from modern literature is the character of Boo Radley from Harper Lee's prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Academic interest in agoraphobia

Some scholars (e.g Liotti 1996, Bowlby 1998) have explained agoraphobia as an attachment deficit, i.e. the temporary loss of the ability to tolerate spatial separations from a Secure Base.

Social science and agoraphobia

In the social sciences there is a perceived clinical bias (e.g. Davidson 2003) in agoraphobia research. Branches of the social sciences - especially human geography - have increasingly become intersted in what may be thought of as a spatial phenomenon.

Is agoraphobia an illness?

It can be argued that (see Liotti 1996), as with many psychological conditions, 'agoraphobia' is a label that medicalises and depersonalises a common experience. This is problematic because symptoms and experiences of agoraphobia vary a great deal from person to person. It is perhaps possible to think of agoraphobia as a 'spectrum disorder', i.e. most people, at some point in their life, have expereienced a degree of panic when in unfamilar places. If this spectrum disorder description of agoraphobia is accurate we must question its status as a medical 'condition' or illness.

The information above is not intended for and should not be used as a substitute for the diagnosis and/or treatment by a licensed, qualified, health-care professional. This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It incorporates material originating from the Wikipedia article "Agoraphobia".

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