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Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization is a therapeutic treatment for psychological problems with an anxiety component, such as phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, all of which are regarded as learned behavior. Originally developed by psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe in the 1950s, the procedure is based on the experimental work of Ivan Pavlov in classical conditioning and the work of Mary Cover Jones with counterconditioning methods applied to a child’s phobia. This entry first describes the conceptual work that led to systematic desensitization, then outlines the procedure’s components. It concludes by discussing research findings on systematic desensitization.

Using cats that had been conditioned to develop a phobic avoidance response to the apparatus used to shock them, Wolpe demonstrated a method of eliminating the phobic response by feeding the cats ...

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