The behavioural approach to treating phobias

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  • The behavioural approach to treating phobias
    • Theory
      • If a behaviour can be learned, it can be unlearned
      • Aim of therapy to alter behaviour using principles of conditioning
    • Systematic desensitisation
      • Gradually reduces anxiety through classical conditioning
      • Anxiety hierarchy relaxation exposure
      • 1: Anxiety hierarchy- list of situations related to phobic stimulus that provoke anxieties. Least --> most scary
      • 2: Relaxation- Therapist teaches patient to relax through breathing exercises/ mental imagery
      • 3: Exposure- Patient exposed to phobic stimulus in relaxed state starting at bottom of hierarchy and working up
    • Flooding
      • Patient exposed to extreme form of phobic stimulus
      • Reduces anxiety triggered by that particular stimulus
      • Takes place across small number of long therapy sessions
      • Important that patients give informed consent
      • Stops responses quickly as avoidance behaviour cannot be performed
    • Evaluation
      • Research shows SD effective in treatment of specific phobias- Gilroy followed 42 patients who'd been treated for spider phobia in three 45min sessions of SD Control group w/o exposure. At both 3 and 33 months after, SD less fearful than control group
      • Alternatives to SD not well suited to some patients. Some sufferers also have learning difficulties so do not understand what is going on. SD most effective
      • Patients prefer SD. Does not cause same degree of trauma as flooding. Low refusal/ attrition rates of SD
      • Flooding works as well as other therapies. Study comparing it to other cognitive therapies found flooding to be highly effective/quicker than other alternatives. Treatment is cheaper
      • Less effective for complex phobias e.g social- have cognitive elements
      • Flooding is highly traumatic experience. Time and money waster when patients do not see treatment through


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