Systematic Desensitization

Chapter 5 discusses phobias and how to treat them. Phobias are a form of classical conditioning. A fear response can come from a neutral stimulus that is associated with an aversive stimulus. This fear conditioning can make someone determined to avoid a dangerous situation. But this can be exaggerated, by becoming fearful of non-dangerous events. These extreme and irrational fears are phobias. Treatments for phobias have been highly successful and are still used today, especially systematic desensitization. Joseph Wolpe conducted research of fear in cats exposed to electric shocks. He found that the cats refused to eat in the room where the shocks occurred. To eliminate this fear, he fed the cats in rooms that were gradually made similar to the one they were shocked in, and eventually they were able to eat in the original room again. Systematic desensitization pairs relaxation with fear inducing stimuli in three parts. The first is training in relaxation, such as meditation or square breathing. Next is creating a hierarchy of imaginary scenes that induce fear, this would involve making a list of least fear inducing to most then rating them. In the case of arachnophobia, the least fear inducing step would be to think about spiders and then eventually, accomplish the most fear inducing step, holding a spider. The last step is using the relaxation techniques when attempting the fear inducing steps of the hierarchy. If this step is repeated from the least fear inducing step to the most, the fear will have been eliminated. The attached video is a really good source in explaining systematic desensitization.


  1. These practices remind me of what is done for OCD exposures. You gradually get people and as you can see, animals to slowly face their fears in order to get used to what they are afraid of. The point as you explained, is to get people and animals back to a normal thought process with whatever they may fear.


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