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Systematic desensitization is a behavioral technique that effectively reduces symptoms in specific phobias and other anxiety disorders. It was developed by Joseph Wolpe and is based on two animal models of treatment, Pavlovian counterconditioning and reciprocal inhibition, to overcome dysfunctional fearful behavior. Systematic desensitization proceeds in three basics steps: First, the therapist teaches the client a relaxation technique; then, the client and the therapist elaborate a fear hierarchy (ranking events that are anxiety eliciting for the client); and finally, the client is confronted by the situations of the hierarchy in ascending order of anxiety while he or she engages in relaxation techniques. Exposure to the anxiety-eliciting situations is traditionally implemented by imagining these situations, although in vivo exposure is also used. Systematic desensitization is ...

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