I’ve written about phobias many times – social phobia, arachnophobia, fear of flying, even fear of giving birth. But the one phobia that magazines and newspapers don’t like featuring is emetophobia – fear of being sick or of seeing someone being sick. ‘Too yucky,’ one commissioning editor told me.
Yet emetophobia can be a full-blown pathological phobia that significantly affects people’s lives, day in and day out.
As therapist Rob Kelly says: 'Emetophobia is a little known but incredibly debilitating fear. I've seen the devastating affect it has on people's lives - many are teetotal and avoid other drinkers by not going out because they fear they may witness someone vomiting.
‘Similarly, sufferers may avoid dining out or eating food prepared by others and they worry a great deal about hygiene - taking excessive time off work or school because they worry about being exposed to germs that will cause them to be sick is a common example.
‘There are some extremes where women avoid becoming pregnant worrying about morning sickness, or feel completely unable to look after their children when they are unwell.’
Sarah Burton used to suffer from emetophobia. When she was 15 she was wrongly diagnosed with an eating disorder. In fact, the reason she had stopped eating was that she was afraid that food would make her sick.
Sarah lived with emetophobia for years, keeping it secret from friends and partners, until at the age of 36 she stumbled across the programme developed by Kelly. It lets people ‘understand how their unhelpful beliefs and thinking styles contribute to their phobia’ and helps them change these ways of thinking .
Kelly has now written a self help book Cure Your Emetophobia and Thrive (available on Amazon, £ 22.95) and has a website. Admittedly I’ve not tried and tested his methods – but they certainly worked for Sarah.
She now says: ‘I don’t obsess about sell-by dates on food any more, I can watch hospital programmes on tv – and I’m looking forward to trying oysters!’
Personally Sarah, I’d still give oysters a miss …