Emetophobia (Vomit Phobia)

Parent Q&A

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  • My almost 13 year old has had a life long severe phobia of vomit and vomiting but now that she is menstruating and feeling nauseated once a month it’s become debilitating.  She paces, has near panic attacks and won’t eat sometimes for several days because she’s terrified of vomiting.  Does anyone know of a clinician or anything that would help with such a thing?  She’s seeing a therapist at Kaiser but it’s not consistent enough so I am looking for help outside Kaiser.  Thank you.

    Hi. Does Kaiser still have a cognitive therapy group for teens? If not, you might try the Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy on College Avenue. Phobias are their speciality. I hope your daughter finds some comfort soon! 

    Did I write this post?  I don't have a solution, but I am desperately looking for one too. My now 14-yr-old has this issue and I have contacted about 12 therapists recommended by a friend, and even some by other therapists, and they all have no availability. I know many people need help these days, and therapists probably don't like spending countless hours on the screen, but I am at a loss at how to find someone with availability and the right experience. Good luck with your search! I hope our girls get the help they need!

    You have my deepest sympathy. In trying to help my child, I found it comforting  to learn that the phobia of vomiting (emesis) is the single most common phobia of all. Not that that makes it easier to resolve, but at least you know your child is not alone in this fear. For better or worse, my child fears being around OTHERS who are vomiting, which is slightly easier to control than fearing vomiting oneself--the body does what it must to expel unwanted substances, which may be why it feels so scary and out of control. EMDR was helpful in helping manage the fear. 

  • Hello I’m looking for a therapist for my 14 years old daughter for Emetophobia (phobia of vomit) she’s been suffering and struggling with her daily life and school .

    Our daughter started seeing a therapist at Kaiser Oakland for the same problem, same age. We're not aware of anyone specialized in it, it's lumped together with a number of other phobias and anxieties so it's likely most any therapist can talk about it, although there are people who seem more focused on cognitive behavioral therapy who might be appropriate. I looked at various posts on this list but landed on Kaiser for cost reasons. Her problem didn't seem debilitating and my impression is that the therapy helped a bit, but aging a couple of years and life experience seem to be helping more. If it were more of a problem we would have looked for someone to meet more regularly  who seemed more focused on this issue specifically, but at this level it's been ok. FWIW, she just had a bout of a real stomach flu with real vomiting, which was tough but in the end seemed to help - now she knows the difference between real and imagined illness...

    My daughter saw Emily Berner MFT on College Ave. for the same thing. She is amazing!!!! My daughter made a total comeback! She is expensive if you have to pay out of pocket but worth every penny! Your child's mental health and well-being is worth it. You can reach her at (510) 652-4455, ext. 5.

    I would highly recommend Dr Kim at the Wright Institute for childhood anxiety and phobias. She has helped pretty much cure my daughter of her blood/injury/injection phobia. Here's her email: anatasiakim [at] gmail.com

    Good luck!

    If she is still in practice and taking new patients, Dr. Amy Jenks helped my daughter with this exact issue. Good luck, I know this can be very difficult.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Dealing with my lifelong vomit phobia now that I have a child

Jan 2011

I have been in and out of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for over a year (mostly in it). I have done exposure exercises on Utube for months. I have done multiple homework assignments from my CBT therapy and much of it has helped but... I am still struggling with my lifelong phobia of vomit. It was easy enough to avoid (though admittingly, this isn't a solution) before having a child. Now my son is three and I am still worried much of the time about him vomiting. He had two bad bouts of tummy upset (he did vomit) just under one year ago and even though I (barely) survived (my husband helps thru much of it), I went into such a hysterical mode, I dread the thought of ever having to deal with this again; so much so that I worry almost daily about having this experience repeat itself and with children, I realize this in unavoidable. I am already on an SSRI antidepressant. Clearly, it has not provided me with adequate relief. I am currently experimenting with increasing my dose b/c of this ongoing phobia. Have any of you parents out there had to deal with this - a phobia having to do w/ something your child(ren) may present - or anything similar? What did/do you do? Please respond. Sick of worrying. Anonymous

There are other therapeutic treatments other then CBT to address phobias. I am a psychotherapist trained in EMDR which helps address traumatic memories. If it has been life long then something started it. I had EMDR work well on a dental phobia with a child. It is worth looking into as an option/adjunct to the CBT work. You could also look for a therapist who specializes in phobias. Exposure therapy can actually worsen the symptoms if not done properly so I would do those exercises with a therapist, not on your own. If you have had this many problems with it, I would look for a specialist. If you have insurance you can usually search their websites by the issue you want addressed, or you could try a website like the psychology today therapist search. Good Luck.

9 year old girl with phobia about throwing up

June 2010

My 9-year old daughter has developed a phobia about throwing up. She has become terribly anxious over the last 3 months about stomach pain and the possibility that she will vomit. She has not vomited during this 3 month period and only 3 times in her entire life. Her fear escalates at night after eating. She reports constant pain and nausea. She also has developed a compulsive behavior of roughly pushing vertically along her abdomen. We have ruled out major physiological diseases with the gastroenterologist. Any experience with this? Recommendations about who can assist us? Help! This fear is eating her alive! worried sick mom

This is really bizarre. My 9 year-old daughter just went through the exact same thing. The very best advice I can give you is to take her to a therapist right away. My daughter went to see someone for several sessions and it really helped turn it around. She learned concrete ways to deal with her fear and how to take control. I also spoke with her pediatrician who said they see LOTS of anxiety and phobia issues in 9-year old children. So don't get too worried. The great thing, I have learned, is that it is highly treatable in children and they respond much more quickly to therapy. My best to you. Been there!

I would recommend looking in to whether it might be anxiety or depression related. I also developed a horrible phobia of throwing up at age 10. My doctors could never figure out a physical explanation for it. But after developing really severe depression and other mental health issues in my teens, and looking back on it now, I believe that the stomach issues were the only way I could express the beginning of some of the symptoms of my illness. It might help her to talk to a therapist or counselor about it (if a physical cause can't be found.) Best of luck! zooey

I knew a girl just like this. This was just a manifestation of her anxiety. She did the stomach pushing too....it is anxiety and I would take her to therapy and find out what she is so anxious about. Anti anxiety meds (zoloft) up saving the day. anon

You know, when I was your daughter's age I had something similar going on. I developed a fear of fainting. It was real and visceral and would consume me. The fear of passing out triggered the feeling that I was about to pass out. Whenever I was in a crowded, uncontrolled place that was slightly muggy, I'd start to get that tingling, cold, light-headed, nauseous feeling and then my parents would have to rush me out. We were touring the White House and I missed seeing President Regan land and exit his helicopter (and wave up at my brother) because I started to feel like I was going to faint/be sick in the Yellow Room and my mom had to get me out an emergency exit. I'd get that same feeling in malls, museums, churches. I think the doctor said it was just a phase.

Looking back at it with an adult's point of view and understanding, I would say that there was a 'general anxiety' issue going on that was manifesting itself through my fear of passing out. Now, I see my episodes more as panic attacks. I don't think anyone caught this at the time.

I'm totally unqualified to dish out advice, but if I were you, I'd learn about general anxiety and panic attacks. There are some great, simple breathing exercises to help through these anxious moments. If anyone in your family has been treated for anxiety, they might have some helpful advice/exercises/reading. I'm sure she doesn't need meds, but one of the best natural antidotes to anxiety and depression is exercise. Plus the release is good. Try to get her to do something vigorous on a regular basis. Yoga is always good. It's exercise meets regulated breathing and relaxation. Also, don't over-react to her feeling unwell. I could always pick up on my mom's panicky feeling of concern for me that would just feed into my idea that something was wrong. (My dad acted cool as a cucumber and could usually get me through it.)

If it feels out of control, absolutely tell your doctor you're concerned about anxiety and find a good behavioral therapist. She'll get coping strategies to deal with the thoughts that are leading her down this path. Even if it's just a phase and she moves past it on her own, you may see anxiety cropping up in other ways as she gets older. Some sessions now could be really valuable in helping her recognize and change these thought patterns. Good luck! Katie

How awful this must be for you and your family! I went through the EXACT same thing when I was 8 years old - just suddenly was terrified of throwing up (even though I hadn't thrown up any time recently prior) and more or less stopped eating entirely. That was 29 years ago, so hopefully things have changed in the world of child psychology and general parental awareness and things aren't so dire in your situation! But in my case, after multiple tests for a physiological reason behind it (there was none) - someone finally suggested to my mom that it was psychological. She took me to a child psychologist who taught me some relaxation exercises and breathing techniques to deal with my anxiety that still help me to this day. The good news is that it worked and got me eating again; the bad news is that the underlying causes of my anxiety (primarily an abusive father that my mom didn't protect me from) were never appropriately dealt with until I became an adult and realized I needed therapy. And thanks to that therapy I got as an adult, I have a very, very happy and fulfilling life - an incredibly supportive loving husband, two wonderful children, and an enviable career.

This is just all to say that if there is no physiological reason for her fear, it's got to be psychological. And the best thing you can do for her in addition to getting her professional help is to keep open the lines of communication with her and encourage her to share her feelings. If my mom would have done that for me - made it safe for me to talk openly with her - it would have saved a lot of grief and pain for everyone.

Best of luck in getting your daughter the support she needs! Been In Her Shoes

Treatment for severe phobia of vomiting

March 2006

Hi BPN, I have a severe phobia of vomiting (called emetophobia), which is becoming more and more disruptive to my daily life now that I have a small child in daycare. Does anyone have any suggestions for treatment centers, therapists, or anyone else who has experience working with phobia treatment/desensitization? Thanks! Scared to Vomit

For phobia-related stuff, go to the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy (5435 College Avenue, Oakland), phone (510) 652-4455. They're the experts. anon

See the archives for recommendations for the wonderful San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy (in Rockridge) -- also see advice under Cognitive- Behavioral Therapy. I kicked a phobia in a matter of months with CBT, and spent a little longer reducing generalized anxiety. A Worrier Myself