Behavioural Treatments

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Outline; behavioural treatments

Classical conditioning theory, phobia; automatic reflex acquired as response to a non-dangerous stimulus. Little Albert (Watson & Rayner) acquired fear of rats when ‘learned’ to associate sight of white rat with fright of hammer crashing down on steel behind his head. After seven trials, Albert became frightened, backed away from white rat every time he saw it. Behaviour therapy could have been used to counter Albert’s conditioning by exposing him to the phobic stimulus while pairing the sight of the white rat with something pleasant until the fear response was reduced and extinguished.

During Systematic Desensitisation, patient trained to substitute relaxation response for the fear response in the presence of the phobic stimulus. Since this is unlikely to occur naturally, behaviour therapy can help by exposing phobics to their fears in a safe and controlled setting. Systematic Desensitisation devised/developed by Wolpe (1958); help clients overcome their phobias.

First; patient is trained to relax. Relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation, tranquillisers.  Second; draws up a list of his most frightening scenarios, from least to most; fear hierarchy.Third; progress through the scenarios, beginning with least frightening, learned to stay relaxed. Sometimes patient asked to imagine these frightening situations, but therapy more effective if situation is real. 

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Evaluate; behavioural treatments

Easy to observe basic concepts & manipulate to determine importance for treatment; reversing conditioning and social learning theory, easy to examine and manipulate.  Helps this treatment as it enables the therapist to determine the focus required. Based on solid theoretical grounds; Based on assumptions of behavioural approach; based on solid/empirical evidence; key psychologists; Watson and Pavlov.  Support to usefulness. Proven to be effective; Evidence suggest systematic desensitisation and exposure therapy effective in curing phobias/anxieties.  Strength to therapy in terms of its practical usefulness. Led to future developments, i.e. exposure therapy; Systematic desensitisation remains a successful/influential therapy, led to development of other successful therapies.

Only relevant to anxiety disorders; Limited in universal application to all psychopathologies. Many phobias systematic desensitisation deals with are relatively trivial, don’t debilitate person’s daily functioning in same way as severe depression or schizophrenia. This limits usefulness of behavioural therapies as a universal approach. Confusion of exact reasons behind the effectiveness. Wolpe criticised for exaggerating importance of muscle relaxation. Practical application; difficult to know what elements are essential for its universal success.  

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