This is most often used to treat phobias, and because behaviourists believe abnormality stems from learnt maladaptive behaviours, they aim to make new associations with the feared stimulus. They overcome these fears by learning to relax in the prescence of the stimuli which once made them nervous and afraid.
Step by step process:
1. Patient is taught to relax all muslces whilst in the prescence of the stimuli
2. Therapist and client create a de-sensitisation hierarchy of fear
3. Patient works their way though the hierarchy, all the while remaining relaxed
4. Once the patient has mastered every step of the hierarchy, they have been effectively cured
Evaluation of Systematic De-Sensitisation
- Appropiateness: They are quick, require little effort from the patient, and may be the only type of treatment for certain groups of people, e.g. those with severe learning difficulties.
- The problem of symptom substitution: May appear to solve the problem, however it ay simply eliminate symptoms, which may result in other symptoms appearing. Lagerin '83 claims there is no evidence to support this
- Effectiveness: Research shows it is effective for a range of disorders, Mcgrath '90 showed 70% of pateitns with phobias were cured. Capafon' 98 showed in a flight stimulation that aerophobics who underwent S-D_S reported lower levels of fear than a control group.
- Reduced effectiveness for some phobias: Ohman et al '75 suggested S-D-S may not be effective in treating anxieties that have been previously acquired.