The behavioural approach to treating phobias - Flooding

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  • Flooding
    • How does flooding work
      • Referred to extinction in terms of classical conditioning
      • Conditioned stimulus no longer produces conditioned response
      • Stops phobic responses very quickly
      • Patient quickly learns stimulus is harmless
      • Learned response is extinguished when the conditioned stimulus is encountered without unconditioned stimulus
      • Some patients may achieve relaxation in the presence of the phobic stimulus because they are exhausted by their own fear response
    • Ethical safeguards
      • Not unethical but is an unpleasant experience so patients must give informed consent so they are fully prepared
      • Patient would normally be given the choice between SD and flooding
    • Arachnophobic might have a spider crawl over them for an extended period
    • Involves exposing patients to phobic stimulus without a gradual buildup
    • Immediate exposure to a very frightening experience
    • Typically longer than SD sessions (2-3 hours)
    • Sometimes only one session needed
    • Evaluation
      • It is cost effective
        • At least as effective as other treatments for specific phobias
        • Studies comparing flooding to CT have found that flooding is highly effective and quicker than alternatives
        • Patients are free of their symptoms as soon as possible
      • It is less effective for some types of phobia
        • Appears to be less effective for more complex phobias like social phobias
        • Social phobias have cognitive aspects
        • E.g: sufferers of social phobias does not simply experience an anxiety response but thinks unpleasant thoughts about the social situation
        • This type of phobia may benefit from more cognitive therapies as they tackle the irrational thoughts
      • The treatment is traumatic for patients
        • Patients are often unwilling to see it through to the end
        • Time and money sometimes wasted preparing patients only for them to refuse to resume or start treatment
  • Evaluation extra
    • Symptom substitution
      • When one phobia disappears, another may appear in its place
      • E.g: phobia of snakes might be replace with phobia of trains
      • However, evidence is mixed and behavioural therapists tend not to believe it happens at all


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