Systematic Desensitization

Description of the Strategy

Systematic desensitization is a venerable behavior therapy approach developed by Joseph Wolpe for the treatment of fear and anxiety-based disorders. As is described below, treatment with systematic desensitization begins with careful assessment that seeks to describe in detail the objects and/or events that occasion fear. Treatment then continues so as to include three basic procedures. The therapist teaches the patient to relax the voluntary muscles. Concurrently, the therapist and patient develop detailed narrative descriptions of personal encounters with the objects/ events that provoke fear, and they arrange the descriptions in order of increasing fearsomeness. Finally, the therapist instructs the patient to visualize the encounters in increasingly fearsome order, while the patient remains fully relaxed. Ordinarily, the therapist also encourages ...

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