These three phases are practiced over several sessions and homework may also be given to maintain the counter conditioning between sessions. Some of these phobias included flying, fear of animals, heights, getting an injection, or the sight of blood. Geralyn is a Licensed Mental Health counselor and wellness content writer. She has experience providing evidence-based therapy in various settings and creating content focused on helping others cultivate well-being.

systematic desensitization

The young man was intensely fearful of contaminating others with his urine. Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Have the individual write down all of their fears related to crowded public spaces.


To maintain the counter conditioning achieved between sessions, offer your client our how much do oxford houses cost Homework Worksheet for use between sessions. Different hierarchies are used to design a systematic desensitization intervention. The following 2 real-life examples are the easiest way to explain how systematic desensitization works.

systematic desensitization

The therapy involves being exposed to situations that typically cause you high levels of stress and fear. The therapy may begin with a situation that isn’t as fear-inducing to you but progressively moves to more intense situations. Next, imagine yourself standing at the entrance outside of a store. As you imagine yourself in this situation, you are likely to feel a sense of anxiety. Perform this exercise several times a day until you can imagine yourself at the store entrance without too much discomfort. At BetterHelp, a therapist who specializes in systematic desensitization or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing can help you overcome experiences such as past traumatic events or phobias.

Geralyn is passionate about empathetic and evidence-based counseling and developing wellness-related content that empowers and equips others to live authentically and healthily. Additionally, you may want to consider what traits matter to you in a therapist. Asking questions about the therapist’s education, training, and experience treating your particular concerns can help you decide if they’re a good fit.

Creating a hierarchy of fears

Additional coping strategies include anti-anxiety medicine and breathing exercises. Another example of relaxation is cognitive reappraisal of imagined outcomes. Systematic desensitization is a technique sometimes used to manage anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias. It usually starts with imagining yourself in a progression of fearful situations. Before beginning systematicdesensitizationexercise, you need to have mastered relaxation training and develop a hierarchy list of your feared situations. Once you can successfully manage your anxiety in this way, you can repeat the steps in the actual situations that you fear.

For example, if you’re scared of the ocean, they might ask you to visualize being at the beach while looking at the sea from a distance. Later on, they may ask you to imagine you’re swimming in a tidal pool. ERP aims to expose you to events related to your obsessive thoughts and prevent you from engaging in compulsions every time exposure happens. In vivo, meaning the client is exposed to the actual stimuli .

  • Wolpe found that if he presented a client with the actual anxiety inducing stimulus, the relaxation techniques did not work.
  • Establish the treatment plan with specific dates and times and assure your client they can stop the exposure whenever they need to.
  • Geralyn is passionate about empathetic and evidence-based counseling and developing wellness-related content that empowers and equips others to live authentically and healthily.
  • Some people become very anxious when travel involves a plane, while others may become extremely fearful at the thought of flying and refuse to go anywhere near a plane.
  • Systematic desensitization is a technique sometimes used to manage anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias.

Lucas also volunteers helping elderly people in nursing homes. Lucas, who is especially interested in hypnotherapy, continues his education and research in this field. ‌In vitro – the patient imagines being exposed to the object of fear in the mind’s eye.

The result is that you will gradually, or systematically, become desensitized to shopping in large stores. Systematic desensitization is a form of behavioral therapy based on the classic conditioning theory. It was developed in the 1950s by South African psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe.

As a member, you’ll also get unlimited access to over 84,000 lessons in math, English, science, history, and more. Plus, get practice tests, quizzes, and personalized coaching to help you succeed. She has extensive research and teaching experience, with over 8 years of college level instruction. Therapy can be expensive, so it can be helpful to evaluate your options. That might mean going through health insurance, an Employee Assistance Program, or seeking a referral from your primary healthcare provider. In some cases, you may need to explore other community-based options.

What Is Exposure Therapy?

This article explains systematic desensitization, techniques, benefits, and how to find a therapist. Effects of systematic desensitization and study behaviour techniques on the reduction of test phobia among in-school adolescents in Abia state. Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy. There’s no right pace for working through your hierarchy of fears.

systematic desensitization

An example of systematic desensitization in practice would be a therapist treating a client experiencing arachnophobia . The therapist may begin by exposing the client to one small spider at a far distance. For example, the fear of public speaking could stem from a phobia or poor social skills. In these situations, the proper treatment may be treating the underlying cause, systematic desensitization, or both. Thoughts and emotions often motivate behavior, especially concerning social phobias and agoraphobia. With these phobias, treatment through systematic desensitization has not been as effective.

Visualization is an exercise that transports you to a place that feels safe and relaxing. The best one depends on your individual needs and preferences. Whether you have a mild fear of the dentist or a phobia that prevents you from going, we’ve outlined strategies and treatments to help.

A therapist will typically use directed lateral eye movements as the external stimulus. The goal of balancing risks, benefits of alcohol is to become gradually desensitized to the triggers that are causing your distress. Verywell Mind’s content is for informational and educational purposes only. Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reported that early studies indicated treatment success for school, blood, and height phobias. Systematic desensitization has been one of the most common methods used to treat specific phobias and related anxieties. has additional free worksheets for managing anxiety. Try our Anchor Breathing worksheet to help clients ground themselves when they experience anxiety, and our STOP the Panic worksheet to manage panic attacks. The homework sheet is provided to maintain the counter conditioned response between sessions. After each session, where you have used any of the first three worksheets, give the client a printed copy of the homework sheet, and show which exercise they must practice. The principles for dealing with a fear of contamination are broadly similar to those used to overcome phobias, as in our arachnophobia example above. Instead of using a spider, use pictures of objects your client perceives as contaminated or dirty.

In order to try desensitizing yourself to your fears, you first have to know exactly what you’re scared of. Begin by writing down your fears, starting with the least scary thoughts that you have, gradually working your way up to the scariest experience you can think of. There’s also evidence that various forms of exposure excessive alcohol consumption can affect bone health therapy are beneficial for those dealing with symptoms of PTSD. The goal of this therapy is to help people learn how to remain calm when faced with a situation, object or place that he or she would normally avoid due to fear. Our team aims to be not only thorough with its research, but also objective and unbiased.

What Is Systematic Desensitization?

Therapies that utilize desensitization work by exposing someone to an animal, object, place or situation that causes fear. Someone can work toward becoming desensitized to his or her fears with help of a professional or by using self-help techniques. When someone has a phobia, the stimulus is the thing that that person is scared of. Effect of systematic desensitization for decreasing of anxiety in individuals with specific phobia. Progressively, they may bring the bird closer while you continue to practice a relaxation technique to manage your anxiety.

If that occurred, it was thought that anxiety would reduce the relaxation rather than the reverse. However, research by Goldfried and Goldfried indicated that the use of a hierarchy of target-relevant behavior was not necessary for effective self-control desensitization. More recent research conducted on systematic desensitization itself has shown that a hierarchy may not be as necessary as originally thought. Thus, the construction of a hierarchy has been deemed less important as the theoretical explanatory model shifted from a counter-conditioning to a coping skills model. Only if the client is unable to tolerate the anxiety should the scene be terminated. The coping skills model assumes that skills are enhanced by practice and success under somewhat adverse conditions.

This step is all about exposure and can happen through visualization (only in the patient’s imagination, called in vitro exposure) or in reality . Anxiety-provoking situations related to the patient’s particular problem or phobia are identified. Fears are ranked from weakest to strongest, forming a hierarchy. This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by our trained editorial staff. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to medically peer-reviewed studies. This Dr. Axe content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure factually accurate information.

Systematic Desensitization: 3 Steps of Desensitization

These exercises could be used on their own or in combination with each other. Another option is to combine imagined scenarios and those in real life. Early sessions might involve looking at frightening photos, then later watching videos and then finally facing the fear in the real world. While remaining as calm as possible, the patient gradually starts to imagine more feared situations. He/she may think of boarding an airplane and sitting down in a seat.

This process helps the person become more comfortable with what they are afraid of, until they no longer feel scared or anxious around it. Systematic desensitization can be used for a wide range of fears, from fear of public speaking to fear of spiders. It is a safe and effective way to deal with fear, and can be used on its own or in combination with other therapies. First, a clinician or behavioral therapist would train the client with the fear of flying in relaxation techniques. This is very similar to meditation, and there are scripts with exact wording that can be followed.

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