Systematic desensitization, a valuable resource against phobias

Phobias are among the most common and prevalent psychological disorders among the Western population, and are estimated to affect around 10% to 15% of this population.

Fortunately, psychology has developed methods and techniques to overcome this type of problem, and in fact, it is one of the psychopathological disorders that responds best to treatment.

In this article we will see which is one of these forms of intervention against phobias: systematic desensitization. But first, let’s take a look at what the anxiety disorder that we started talking about is.

    What is a phobia?

    Phobias are a set of psychological disorders belonging to the category of anxiety disorders. They are characterized by the fact that people who develop them suffer from a pattern of onset of sudden elevations in the level of anxiety when exposed to certain situations; therefore, they usually try to avoid these situations before they arise, or flee or withdraw quickly once the increase in anxiety is generated, to stop feeling bad as soon as possible.

    On the other hand, phobias they are as varied as the number of situations or stimuli likely to trigger phobic reactions, And this is why we are talking about needle phobia, driving phobia, spider phobia etc. Of course, those who develop a phobia usually only suffer from phobic-type anxiety reactions to a specific type of object, living thing, place, or situation. For example, blood phobia does not mean being afraid of dogs, planes, etc.

    The main symptoms that appear during a phobic attack are as follows:

    • Increased heart rate

    • nausea

    • cold sweat

    • tremors

    • Scared of heights

    • Catastrophic thoughts on what’s to come

    • Digestion problems

    • You might be interested in: “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: What It Is and What Principles Is It Based On?”

    What is systematic desensitization applied to phobias?

    Systematic desensitization is a form of psychological intervention belonging to behavioral therapies and by extension to cognitive behavioral therapy, and is widely used primarily to treat certain anxiety disorders, such as phobias.

    The basic idea on which it is based is to help patients cope with the situations they fear due to the phobia, by making them not eliminate the anxiety reaction, but control it and facilitate its gradual extinction. .

    For this, what is done is begin to expose the person to situations very similar to those generalized by the phobic reaction, In a controlled environment and following the instructions given by the psychologist, making him not give in and flee from this type of exposure.

    This is achieved, among other things, by following a difficulty curve, starting with low-intensity experiences and then making them more and more anxious. To achieve this, we usually work with guided imagination exercises, images and sometimes 3D virtual reality resources or real stimuli, when necessary and possible.

    On the other hand, another characteristic of systematic desensitization is that while exposing the patient to “uncomfortable” situations which at least in part trigger a phobic reaction, it helps it to induce in itself a state of relaxation, Through various psychological techniques. In this way, the experience once associated with anxiety (spiders, needles, etc.) is associated with opposing psychological and physiological processes.

    Thus, the goal of systematic desensitization applied to phobias is to allow the person to normalize the fact of experiencing the proximity of those objects, living things, places or situations of which they were afraid, helping them to stop granting them so much. of importance. It is a process of true emotional and fully experiential training.This cannot be replaced simply by a theoretical learning of what a phobia is: normally people know that the fear they feel in phobia attacks is irrational, but even so, it limits their life.

    Are you looking for psychological support?

    If you have a phobic problem or other psychological disorder associated with anxiety or managing emotions in general, I invite you to contact me to initiate a process of psychological intervention in several sessions. I am a psychologist specializing in the cognitive-behavioral approach, and I work both in person in Madrid and through the online format for video calls. To see more information on my way of working, as well as my contact details, go to this page.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Bourne, EJ (2005). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland: New publications from Harbinger.
    • Cavall, VE (1998). Handbook of Behavior Modification and Therapy Techniques. Three songs: 21st century.
    • Dubord, G. (2011). Part 12. Systematic desensitization. Canadian Family Physician, 57 (11): 1299.
    • Kessler et al. (2005). Prevalence, severity and comorbidity of DSM-IV disorders at 12 months when replicating the national comorbidity survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 20.
    • McGlynn, F .; Smitherman, T .; Gothard, K. (2004). Comment on the state of systematic desensitization. Behavior modification, 28 (2), pp: 194-205.
    • Wolpe, J. (1958). Psychotherapy for reciprocal inhibition. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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