What is Ichthyophobia? (An Overview)

In this blog we will deliberate the etiology, symptoms and treatment of Ichthyophobia. 

Ichthyophobia is an irrational or persistent fear of fish called Ichthyophobia.

The word originates from the Greek word ‘ichthys’ which means fish and ‘phobos’ which means fear.

Some fish in general and sharks in particular have always been a cause of dread and fear in people.

The fear of sharks is called Galeophobia. 

Sharks have always been seen as monsters that do not let the chance of eating man alive go by.

It is commonly a source of evil in more than one Hollywood movie and countless literature. 

The famous novel turned movie Jaws is one such very common example. 

Another movie that showed intelligent instincts in sharks was The Deep Blue.

In this movie they were shown as conspiring beasts, thus anyone who is prone to anxiety is bound to develop Ichthyophobia.

The Navajo tribes of North America are named as the “Ichthyophobic” due to their intense fear of all aquatic life.

This tribe is afraid of all creatures of the water and neither catch them or eat them. They are afraid of them even dead or alive.

This fear is not psychological but has a mythical and a cultural color to it.

Ichthyophobia is an intense fear of the fish that makes the person so scared of the aquatic life that his occupational as well as personal life gets affected, to the point that he is unable to carry on normal life functions with ease.


Symptoms of Ichthyophobia

  • ·         Feeling nauseous at the sight of the fish
  • ·         Anxiety at the thought of fish
  • ·         hot flashes or chills
  • ·         shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • ·         pain or tightness in the chest
  • ·         a sensation of butterflies in the stomach
  • ·         rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • ·         nausea
  • ·         headaches and dizziness
  • ·         feeling faint
  • ·         trembling
  • ·         a choking sensation
  • ·         numbness or pins and needles
  • ·         dry mouth
  • ·         confusion
  • ·         hyperventilation

Causes of Ichthyophobia

Ichthyophobia is an irrational fear of all types of fish regardless of their size, types or texture.

This fear can develop from childhood and go into adulthood if not treated properly.

As a child, the person suffering from Ichthyophobia may have been exposed to a dead fish or forced to hold a live fish that wriggled and was all slimy.

This might have developed an aversion in him. It could also happen that during a swimming venture in the sea confrontation with a fish had enabled the phobia to develop.

Sensory Disintegration Disorder

People who suffer from sensory disintegration disorder have a problem in processing stimuli.

So if this person holds a fish or had ever experienced touching a fish, then chances are that he will suffer from anxiety.

The sliminess and the stench of the fish are enough to repulse anyone.

People also believe that fish are the source of many types of poisonings, like lead and mercury.

Thus, giving rise to a state of terror and panic.

Early Traumatic Experiences

Ichthyophobia can also have its roots in one’s childhood.

A traumatic event that has occurred in or near a place where there were fish could give rise  to this phobia.

In some people, the fear goes away with time while in others it simply keeps on rising.

Ichthyophobia may also be linked with a fear of the water, Hydrophobia.

Therefore, anyone who is afraid of one thing is also scared of the things associated with the source of fear.

People with a sensitive mental disposition or nature can get easily influenced by tales or anxious humans around them.

 Emotional learning at a young age occurs to protect us.

The conditioning done by a grown up, a movie, book or simply an event can cause this phobia to protect the mind from further trauma.

However, this emotional learning becomes, at times, the only reason fears are developed as well.

Ichthyophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no known cause.

These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).

Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.

Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.

This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of one’s parents is inherited by the child.

This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.

According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Ichthyophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of the moon.

As mentioned earlier, one can develop Ichthyophobia as a result of OCD.

Thus, someone who is already diagnosed with this disorder is more likely to have this irrational fear of fish.

An environmental trigger event can be for example, a traumatic childhood experience.

It could have happened that the person encountered an accident either in an aquarium or fell in the water with fish and developed Ichthyophobia. 

Another reason to develop Ichthyophobia could be watching movies that depict the fish as evil or villainous, like the Jaws and the Deep Blue.

The sad death of the famous Steve Irwin, also known as the Crocodile Hunter also played a role in developing Ichthyophobia in many.

Thus, Ichthyophobia is caused by both a genetic predisposition and environmental trigger events.

Treatment of Ichthyophobia

Ichthyophobia, like all other specific phobias, has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.

Like all the other specific phobias, Ichthyophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.

• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.

Ichthyophobia is defined as the irrational fear of the fish.

Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.

The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about the fish.

Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.

The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.

The ABCD stands for:

i.      A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.

ii.     B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.

iii.    C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought

iv.    D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to        dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.

This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious. 

• Exposure Therapy

It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Ichthyophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).

In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.

As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.

In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine that he is in an aquarium or on a fishing trip.

During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.

Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy.

While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.

These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.

This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.

Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patient’s fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.

• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is a meditation therapy, used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.

Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.

Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.

In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example, to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.

This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.

For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.

• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This is another effective therapy used for Ichthyophobia.

It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobias.

Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).

         i.      Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.

The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. 

Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.

       ii.       Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.

Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.

This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. 

      iii.       The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.

Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.

Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.

• Yoga/Meditation

They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Ichthyophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.

Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.

Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calmer, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.

Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like.

Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.

The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts of the fish.

• Drug Therapy

Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Ichthyophobia.

Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.

This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.

However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.

Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:

  1. Anti-anxiety Drugs

Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.

They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.

  1. Antidepressant Drugs

These drugs, as the name suggests don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.

Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.

They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes Ichthyophobia?

Ichthyophobia Is a fear of the fish and the person suffering from it has anxiety when he even thinks about the moon.fish.

Why are people afraid of the fish?

People are afraid of the fish because of the accidents or injuries induced by sharks and sting rays and other sea life leaves them insecure.

They seem to be helpless in the case of protecting themselves from it.

Can Ichthyophobia be cured?

Yes Ichthyophobia can be cured through therapies.

People suffering from Ichthyophobia are afraid of eating fish too. Is that true?

Not in every case.

There are some cases that people suffering from Ichthyophobia  develop an aversion to fish, but that may be due to the fact that they are repulsed by the stench of the fish too.

Examples of other interesting phobias


Titles to Read From


  • www.psychtimes.com
  • www.apa.org
  • www.mindfulness.com
  • www.mayoclinic.com

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