What is agoraphobia?

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder; and is often thought of as being the opposite of claustrophobia, but that's not quite right. It's not “fear of open spaces” but fear of the marketplace (from the Latin agora, a market). If you suffer from agoraphobia, you become scared in public places where there are a lot of people, such as shopping centres or buses in the rush hour and it is this that makes you find it so hard to leave the house. There seem to be two underlying beliefs which cause agoraphobia. The first is that you think the world is an unsafe place and you won't be able to cope – perhaps you'll collapse – and that no-one will come to your assistance. The other is that the world is a hostile place and that others are mocking or judging you; and schoolchildren (especially of the opposite sex) on buses is a common trigger.

Agoraphobia is often accompanied by panic attacks which are a sensation of fear, a feeling of loss of control and a desire to escape. It is possible to have panic attacks without agoraphobia and agoraphobia without panic attacks but they usually appear together. If you become panicky at the thought of having another panic attack (with all that means to you if you were in public) then this might be panic disorder which is the unpleasant fear of having another panic attack.

Getting treatment for agoraphobia can simply be too scary since it means leaving the place of safety to go to see a stranger who might be assumed to be unsupportive or judgemental, so if necessary I will start with a few home visits. If you have Skype, then online counselling is a possibility.