Fear Of Fish (Ichthyophobia): Characteristics, Symptoms, Treatments

The fear of fish or ichthyophobia ranges from cultural phenomena such as the fear of eating fish, touching raw fish, or dying to irrational fear (specific phobia). Galeophobia is the fear, specifically of sharks.


  • Ichthyophobia is an abnormal and intense fear of fish (alive or dead) and a fear of eating fish (for example, due to possible contaminants such as mercury).
  • As for phobias, it is relatively rare.
  • While some people may feel uncomfortable around fish for various reasons (for example, fear of being hurt, fear of their appearance when they die on a plate or in the seafood store), these feelings can develop into ichthyophobia when they significantly limit the daily functioning of the person and cause harm.


  • An example would be if a person decided never to swim on any beach for fear of being near fish.
  • Another example would be if the person needs to avoid social situations in which there are fish (fishing trips, restaurants, doctor’s offices with aquariums, pet stores, movies with fish like Jaws.


Ichthyophobia is described in Psychology: An International Perspective as an “unusual” specific phobia. Both the symptoms and remedies of ichthyophobia are common to most particular phobias.

John B. Watson, a renowned name from behaviorism, describes an example, cited in many psychology books, of conditioned fear of a goldfish in a baby and a way of not conditioning fear for what is now called graded exposure therapy. :

Try another method. Let your four-year-old brother, who is not afraid of fish, climb into the tank, put his hands in the tank, and catch the fish. No amount of watching a fearless child play with these harmless animals will take away the young child’s fear.

  • Try to embarrass him by making him a scapegoat.
  • Your attempts are equally futile. Let’s try this simple method, however.
  • Place your child at mealtime at one end of a ten or twelve-foot-long table, and move the fishbowl to the other end of the table and cover it.
  • As soon as the food is placed before him, remove the lid from the bowl.
  • If there is any discomfort, extend the table and place the container even further away, so far away that there is no discomfort.
  • Feeding is usually carried out, nor does it interfere with digestion.
  • Repeat the procedure the next day, but move the container closer.
  • The bowl can be carried directly to the food tray in four to five days without causing the slightest discomfort.
  • Then take a small glass plate, fill it with water and move it backward, and at mealtime, bring it closer and closer to him.
  • Again, the small glass dish can be put on the tray next to your milk in three to four days.
  • The old fear has been expelled by training, the unconditioning has taken place, and this unconditioning is permanent.

You can also read Fear of Pleasure: Diagnosis, Symptoms, Treatment.

Cultural phenomenon

Historically, the Navajo people were described as ichthyophobic due to their aversion to fishing. However, this was later recognized as a cultural or mythical aversion to aquatic animals rather than a psychological condition.


  • A psychological technique that is very useful in treating ichthyphobia is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), in which people learn to change their thoughts to change their resulting feelings.
  • The person learns not to overestimate the risk of harm from the presence of fish or from eating fish. In this way, the thoughts become less intrusive and anxiety-provoking.
  • CBT is the most common form of treatment.
  • «The« Where Medical Information is Easy to Understand »™ Another technique is a method known as desensitization, in which a person is taught to relax when exposed to situations (e.g., aquariums, seafood restaurants) in which there is greater exposure to fish.
  • The person is exposed to more intense forms of the stimulus (for example, more fish) as the fear dominates at a less severe level.
  • Sometimes the most potent form of the stimuli is based on the amount of the incentives. In contrast, in other cases, it may be found in the duration of the exposure (for example, one minute, two minutes, three minutes, etc., such as the time spent in the water with the fish).
  • CBT is often combined with desensitization and usually works within a few months.
  • Another treatment technique is a behavioral method known as flooding. The person plunges directly into the feared stimulus (for example, immersed in a fish tank with much harmless fish) to show that the fear is irrational.

Relaxation techniques

  • Fear is replaced by understanding this and applying relaxation techniques.
  • Floods are a faster but more traumatic form of treatment than desensitization.
  • A more understanding-oriented technique involves exploring the root cause of the phobia (for example, a traumatic experience with fish) and resolving the issues surrounding it.
  • This may involve using CBT techniques and other counseling methods.


Ichthyophobia can be treated with an anxiolytic medication designed to decrease anxiety (for example, to relax when going to a marine aquarium). Sometimes antidepressant medications can be used because some antidepressants help treat both anxiety and depression.

  • Another form of treatment is hypnotherapy, in which the person imagines eating, seeing, or thinking about fish without being overly anxious.
  • On a cultural note, Navajo Indians have been reported to have a mythical or cultural aversion to sea creatures, but not all have ichthyophobia.
  • Galeophobia is a specific type of fish phobia (fear of sharks).
  • Due to the fear of sharks, people may generalize fears of other fish as a symbol that some kind of danger is imminent. Ichthyophobia comes from the Greek word “ichthys,” which means “fish,” and the Greek word “Phobos,” which means “fear.” Put the two words together, and you will be “afraid (of) fish.”

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.