Understanding Through Case Study: Overcoming Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia, Psychology Case Studies Nov 02, 2023

Claustrophobia is a psychological disorder. An intense and irrational fear of confined or enclosed spaces characterizes it. Many people with claustrophobia feel extreme anxiety or panic in situations where they can’t escape. For instance, elevators, tunnels, crowded rooms, or airplanes. This fear can be overwhelming and cause them to avoid these places. Avoidance behaviors are expected. Individuals avoid situations or locations they think might trigger their claustrophobic reactions. This fear and avoidance can impact their daily lives and activities.


Mary is a 34-year-old marketing executive. She came to therapy seeking help for her intense fear of enclosed spaces. She had been experiencing this fear for several years, impacting her daily life. Mary found it difficult to travel in elevators or use public transportation. To an extent, even in crowded rooms. Her fear was so severe that she often experienced panic attacks. This led to avoidance behaviors and social isolation.

Presenting Issues:

  1. Intense fear of enclosed spaces, leading to panic attacks
  2. Avoidance behaviors impacting daily life and social interactions
  3. Feelings of helplessness and frustration


Upon assessment, Mary’s claustrophobia stemmed from a traumatic experience in her childhood. When she got stuck in an elevator for several hours. This incident left a lasting impression on her. It causes her to associate enclosed spaces with danger and helplessness. Mary’s anxiety symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of claustrophobia. as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria.

Treatment Plan:

Exposure therapy is a standard and effective treatment for claustrophobia. It involves facing the fear of enclosed spaces in a controlled and systematic way. This allows individuals to confront their fear and learn that the perceived threat is not as dangerous as they believe. Here’s what happens during exposure therapy for claustrophobia:

  1. Assessment. The therapist assesses the individual’s fears, triggers, and anxiety associated with enclosed spaces. Understanding the root cause and the intensity of the fear is essential. It helps in designing a tailored exposure plan.
  2. Psychoeducation. The therapist provides information about the nature of anxiety, the fight-or-flight response, and how exposure therapy works. Understanding the physiological and psychological aspects of fear helps individuals rationalize their feelings.
  3. Building a Fear Hierarchy: The individual creates a fear hierarchy with the therapist. They rank situations related to enclosed spaces from least to most anxiety-provoking. This hierarchy serves as a guide for the exposure exercises. It starts with the least anxiety-inducing situations.
  4. Imaginal Exposure: The therapy may begin with imaginal exposure. Here, the individual can imagine being in enclosed spaces. They describe their sensations, thoughts, and emotions related to the scenario. This allows them to confront the fear in their imagination.
  5. Gradual Exposure: The individual is exposed to real-life situations involving enclosed spaces. It starts with the most miniature anxiety-provoking case from their hierarchy. For example, this might include standing near an open elevator without getting in or spending a few moments in a small room with open doors.
  6. Relaxation Techniques: The therapist teaches relaxation techniques. Such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindfulness meditation. This helps the individual manage anxiety symptoms during exposure exercises. Relaxation techniques provide a coping mechanism and assist in reducing anxiety levels.
  7. Controlled Exposure: The exposure exercises ensure the individual feels anxious but not overwhelmed. The therapist provides support and guidance, helping the individual stay in the situation until their anxiety decreases. Over time, the pressure diminishes as the person realizes they can handle the case without the feared consequences.
  8. Progression. As the individual becomes more comfortable in one situation, they progress to more anxiety-provoking scenarios in their fear hierarchy. The individual’s readiness and willingness to face challenging problems determine the progression.
  9. Reinforcement: Praise and encouragement are given when the individual confronts a feared situation. This positive feedback helps reinforce the adaptive behavior of facing their fears.
  10. Generalization: The goal is for the individual to generalize their learning. The learning they acquired from exposure therapy to various situations in their daily life. They learn the skills and coping mechanisms that can be applied in different enclosed spaces to reduce anxiety across many contexts.


Over several months, Mary made significant progress. Through consistent therapy sessions, exposure exercises, and the support of her loved ones, she was able to confront and overcome her fear of enclosed spaces. Mary’s panic attacks diminished. And she regained her ability to travel in elevators. Even use public transportation without overwhelming anxiety.


Mary’s case demonstrates the effectiveness of a comprehensive treatment approach for claustrophobia. She combines cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, exposure therapy, and a robust support system. With determination, therapeutic guidance, and support from her social circle, Mary was able to reclaim her life from the grips of claustrophobia. This showcases the power of evidence-based interventions in treating anxiety disorders.

About author

Karuna Kaul is psycho socio clinical psychologist, who works with all age group people. Her profession motivates her to serve people who are facing behavioral issues. She has over 8 years of experience and has successfully established credibility in the areas of counselling and wellness. Assessment and behavioral analysis and training and coaching. She has been an active advocate of mental health awareness. And all her endeavors in the field are primarily focused on educating more and more people about Mental Health concerns and promoting Holistic Wellbeing. She has done master in clinical psychology PG Diploma in counselling and guidance and certified in drug addiction counselling Also she has done neuro medicine psychology from London University, Kent College of United Kingdom. With an experience of six years, she had worked with various organization which provides mental health services.