A Review of Agoraphobia & Discussion of the DSM-V Diagnostic Criteria

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What if you were afraid of leaving your home? How difficult would it be to function when contemplating a trip to the grocery store creates debilitating anxiety? That is the reality for people with agoraphobia.

Readers may have an impression of what Agoraphobia is due to its use in motion pictures. Sigourney Weaver portrayed an agoraphobic psychologist in the 1995 movie Copycat; Dianne Weist portrayed Sean Penn’s helpful, but agoraphobic neighbor in I am Sam; and Bill Pullman provided a more amusing portrayal as Daryl Zero, the title character in 1998’s The Zero Effect. Outside of these fictional characters, however, it is likely that few people have much personal interaction with people who suffer from this disorder.

Carl Friedrich Westphal is credited for coining the name “Agoraphobia” in 1871. His research was based upon several of his patients who exhibited fear of public spaces, such as markets or bridges. Agoraphobia translates to “fear of the market,” but Westphal talked about fear of spaces.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has, until now, classified Agoraphobia as a Panic Disorder. With publication of the DSM-V, it is now a stand-alone disorder, and is no longer coupled with Panic Disorder.

This paper will provide information about this disorder, and will discuss the differences and similarities between the old criteria and the new.

Age of Onset & Prevalence

There seems to be some disagreement about the average age of onset for agoraphobia. According to the textbook, agoraphobia seems to have onset of mostly women over the age of 50, but other sources indicate otherwise. Kessler’s study, for example, shows that the overall prevalence of agoraphobia without panic disorder is 1.4 perce...

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...(4th ed., text rev.). Arlington: American Psychiatric Association, Inc.


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