The behavioural approach to treating phobias: systematic desensitisation
SD is a behavioural therapy designed to gradually reduce phobic anxiety through the principle of classical conditioning. Essentially, a new response to the phobic stimulus is learned as the phobic stimulus is paired with relaxation instead of anxiety (counter conditioning). It is impossible to be afraid and relaxed at the same time so one emotion prevents the other (reciprocal inhibition).
The anxiety hierarchy: put together by the patient and the therapist, it is a list of situations related to the phobic stimulus that provoke anxiety, arranged in order from least to most frightening
Relaxation: the therapist teaches the patient to relax as deeply as possible, using breathing exercises, mental imagery techniques, meditation or drugs such as Valium
Exposure: the patient is exposed to the phobic stimulus whilst in a relaxed state, starting at the bottom of the hierarchy and moving on once they can stay relaxed in the presence of the phobic stimulus. Treatment is successful…