Learning Approach: Systematic desensitisation to treat phobias

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  • Created by: lilly557
  • Created on: 14-04-14 15:17

Systematic desensitisation

Uses principles of classical condidtioning to treat phobias. This suggests that conditioning begins with an automatic reflecx action.This can explain how fears are learned and the same principles can be used to overcome their fears. 

An example of this is someone who has a fear of closed spaces is likely to develop a fear of flying because they are stuck on plane in a smaller enclosed space. This fear of flying is developed because of a bad experience which they will associate with both of these circumstances. This becomes a phobia when it prevents someone from flying when they need or want to. 

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Treatment process

During the treatment process a hierachy of fears is established. The patient then works with the therapist working through the treatment by working through each hierachy fear overcoming each situation in small steps in the patients own pace. 

An important part of this treatment is the patient learning a relaxation technique. This is because the patient needs to learn to relax in order to overcome each fear gradually working towards each goal. 

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Weaknesses of systematic desensitisation


  • The principles of classical conditioning mostly come from animal studies and we need to be careful when generalising the findings to humans, This is because the treatment rests on the principles iit may not be valid. 
  •  The theraphy proves useful for those who are able to relax, it is most convenient contribution as it can only help those who are able to learn the relaxation techniques and implement them during times of stress. 
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Strengths of systematic desenitisation

  • There is alot of research to show the treatment is effective for treating phobias. Capafrons et al ( 1998) and Brosnan and Thorpe (2006) provide evidence for this theraphy. 
  •  This theraphy is more ethical than flodding and aversion theraphy as the patient can suffer stress or harm to the patient. This is because the patient is in control of their speed and the progression of their theraphy. 
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