Claustrophobia Is a Psychopathological Symptom, a Phobia of Confined or Cramped Spaces

Claustrophobia is one of the disorders related in anxiety occurrence. This condition is classified as the fear of being closed in small rooms or spaces. This poses problems for varying individuals and most of the time interferes with the normal lifestyle of a person. This kind situation is very evident in various individuals that search for escape routes just prior to their entry in these closed spaces. In some cases, even worse manifestation of this anxiety occurs. The condition of claustrophobia has been under so various and countless studies in order to figure out the possible treatments to solve the condition.

The occurrence from mild to severe anxiety upon exposure of an individual to closed or small spaces induces the anxiety disorder known as Claustrophobia. This condition is manifested by the individual’s search for doors, exit means or any possible way out upon entering a closed room or space. For example, upon entry of the sufferer to a room without windows or any open area, aside from the door, the person manifests anxiety and may consider not entering inside the room anymore (Das, 2003 p.118). Another condition that is mostly related to Claustrophobia is the fear of having no means of escape or a situation wherein an exit is embarrassing for the sufferer. Most of the time diagnoses between the two concepts of anxiety disorder are being mixed up since differentiations in these conditions are very close (Andrews 2003, p.39).

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In this research paper, the following queries should be answered and the concept between Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia should be clarified:

  • What are the differentiations between the conditions of Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia and how does it affect the diagnosing procedures? Discuss the probable etiologies, and signs and symptoms manifested by these conditions.
  • What are the possible treatment modalities for Claustrophobia? Elaborate these treatment procedures.

The following disorders are very much seen in patients who experienced traumatic conditions such as rape, murder or any events that triggers flight response. The psychological manual used for maladaptive conditions such as anxiety disorders (including Claustrophobia) uses the latest DSM-IV as reference for diagnosis. This the standard used by psychologist to categorize the conditions; however, confusion in diagnosis is inevitably since the conditions of Claustrophobia and Agoraphobia are almost similar. The following research paper aims to discuss the conditions of Claustrophobia, mainly, and relate it to its almost similar disorder, Agoraphobia.

According to Mavissakalian & Prien (2006) in their book entitled, Long-Term Treatments of Anxiety Disorders, the condition of Claustrophobia is a specific disorder that is still under searched, despite of its prevalence. According to studies made by American researchers, this condition is the prodromal state of Agoraphobia. However, various observations denote differences between these two disorders. Claustrophobia is the restricted anxiety of enclosed spaces that lacks characteristics of panic attacks (p.142).

The condition of claustrophobia manifests “withdrawal” or “flight” that is why their main focus upon entering any place is an exit, and their phobia mainly envelopes in conditions wherein the space is closed (Morgan, 2003 p.150). The main center of claustrophobic manifestations is panic attacks accompanied by fear of enclosure or confinements. Claustrophobic individuals may suffer from excessive panic attacks, wherein acute, intensifying anxiety or fear and confusion associated with cognitive breakdown (Bor & gerwen, 2003 p.13). The usual symptoms of panic attack accompanied in Claustrophobia are the following (Nutt, Feeney & Argyropoulos, 2003 p.5):

  • Palpitations, pounding heart or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating, trembling or shaking; fear of dying
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering; feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort; nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
  • Delirium or loss of touch in reality (feelings of unreal world) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • Fear of loosing control or going crazy; Chills or hot flushes
  • Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations).

The DSM-IV system of classification embraces this view and classifies Agoraphobia as secondary to panic disorder (Nutt, Feeney & Argyropoulos, 2003 p.3). The anxiety disorders chapter in the DSM-IV is organized around the concept of the panic attack. It recognizes that such attacks can occur in all of the anxiety disorders in certain circumstances. It also states that spontaneous panic attacks are characteristic of panic disorder itself (p.4). Agoraphobia is the fear of exposure to certain areas that in the end may cause unexpected phenomena. The client usually exhibits breakdown especially on public places such as shopping malls, restaurants, recreation parks or even on the streets (Eisenstadt 2003, p.6).

In the book of Garvin (2003) entitled, The Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Clinician Guides and Patient Manuals, suggests that Claustrophobia branches out from the condition of Agoraphobia. Conceptually, it is difficult to separate Claustrophobia from Agoraphobia. The person also experiences problems in escaping and embarrassing exit that are also present in Agoraphobic individuals. In terms of age of onset, Agoraphobia and Claustrophobia emerge after adolescence (p.13).

This kind of pattern suggests similarities between Agoraphobia and claustrophobia. Moreover, almost all symptoms between the two disorders are almost alike; however, the thin barrier that separates the two is the occurrence is severity of panic attack. Agoraphobic patient experiences panic attack especially if the situation proposes a great challenging demand and causes the sufferer to break down. This may involve unexpected phenomenon, example an influx of people in the street, which is normally composed of few people. This even extends somatic and cognitive manifestations for the sufferer.  In claustrophobic patients, panic attacks are due to enclosure especially in areas without windows or doors.

If you exchange both patients in the same setting, the claustrophobic will experience an absence panic attack since he is still in the street, although with influx of people, but escape and exit is still possible. However, if you place an agoraphobic in a situation with small place and no probable exit other than the door, the patient will manifest panic attack especially if the person is not used in that situation.

According to Barlow (2002), the treatment modalities for claustrophobic patients are In Vivo Exposure, Interoceptive Exposure and Cognitive Restructuring (p.416).

In Vivo Exposure – is a technique also involved in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is characterized by prolong exposure of an individual to the specific anxiety-producing material for a corresponding period of time. The aim of this treatment is primarily to reduce the anxiety in the person by means realizing the threat condition.

Interoceptive Exposure – is a technique that uses behavioral modification and explanation to the client that client regarding the condition and the threat producing stimuli. The treatment also helps the individual get over the symptoms brought by the condition.

Cognitive Restructuring – is the reshaping or the remolding of the thought of the individual suffering from the illness. It redirects the stimuli produced by the threat by changing its distortions. These are the treatment measure most commonly used to treat claustrophobic patients. The effectiveness among these treatments varies and application depends on the patients’ status.


  1. Barlow, D. H. (2002). Anxiety and Its Disorders: The Nature and Treatment of Anxiety and Panic. Guilford Press.
  2. Bor, R., & Gerwen, L. (2003). Psychological Perspectives on Fear of Flying. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..
  3. Das, S. S. (2003). Existential Encounters. iUniverse.
  4. Eisenstadt, M. M. (2003). Freedom from Agoraphobia. Mark Eisenstadt.
  5. Gavin, A. (2003). The Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Clinician Guides and Patient Manuals. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Mavissakalian, R. M., & Prien, F. P. (1996). Long-Term Treatments of Anxiety Disorders. American Psychiatric Pub.
  7. Morgan, S. (2003). Phobia: A Reassessment. Karnac Books.


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Claustrophobia Is a Psychopathological Symptom, a Phobia of Confined or Cramped Spaces. (2016, Sep 27). Retrieved from