Behavioural Approach to Treating Phobias

  • Created by: Bethany
  • Created on: 08-09-19 18:03

There are 2 behavioural treatments for phobias:

1) Systematic Desensitisation (SD)

  • assumes that if phobias are learned then they can be unlearned
  • treats clients step by step to replace their learned sensitivity with a harmless response
  • impossible to be afraid and relaxed at the same time so one emotion prevents the other- reciprocal inhibition
  • teach the client deep relaxation techniques
  • client develops an anxiety hierarchy, step by step plan of situations the client would normally struggle to cope with - the least fearful at the bottom and systematically getting more fearful towards the top which is the most fearful situation
  • the client learns to associate the deep relaxation with the least fear provoking situation and only once this is achieved the client is encouraged to the next step of the hierarchy
  • they associate the relaxed response with the fearful situation at each stage until they associate the most fearful situation with the relaxed response

+effective at treating many phobias

  • extremely successful therapy for many phobias
  • McGrath et al (1990) found 75% of phobic patients showed an improvement in their symptoms after SD
  • works in most cases

-not effective for all phobias

  • phobias with an underlying evolutionary component are not as easily treated by SD as phobias learned though experience
  • fears of the dark, heights and dangerous animals may be the result of evolution and these are harder to treat through SD
  • limited to treating only specific types of phobias

+beneficial for the economy

  • mental health issues cost the English economy £22.5billion a year and any effective treatments could help reduce this
  • an effective treatment for phobias, such as SD, might reduce unnecessary healthcare costs on treatments for phobias that don't work
  • positive impact on sufferers' lives but also ecomic benefits


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