Systematic desensitization (Behavior therapy)


Systematic desensitization is a technique developed by Joseph Wolpe, in which, the individual imagines a hierarchy of anxiety-producing situations under conditions of physical relaxation with the goal of weakening or eliminating the anxiety responses. Desensitization, the lessened reactivity, is a decreased emotional sensitivity with respect to a personal defect or social problem after counseling. It is an assumption that most anxiety-producing situations are, basically, conditioned responses and if an individual remains calm and relaxed in situations that previously produced anxiety in a therapy, these are extinguished. In its simplicity, the approach is done with care, skill, and interest as it’s straightforward.                                   1.Training in relaxation. It is a first step in a therapeutic situation that the individual is trained as how to relax. After a few sessions, the individual learns- how to contract the various muscles of the body and then gradually relax until a complete state of physical relaxation can be achieved at obe’s will. The principles of “progressive relaxation” outlined by Jacobson and Wolpe comprise basic techniques. Other techniques that may be used to facilitate complete relaxation are meditation, hypnosis, and drugs recommended by psychologists.       2.The construction of hierarchies. The hierarchy of the individual’s anxieties is constructed in a few sessions of therapy. It is a list of hierarchy of situations ranked in descending order as per the amount of anxiety from low to high as they evoke in the mind of the client. For example, if a client fears from snake on seeing the same from a distance ranks first in the hierarchy and taking the snake in one’s hands is the highest anxiety-producing situation. Anxiety may focus around more than one theme in a variety of phobias or maladaptations.                3.Desensitization procedure. When the individual becomes an expert of relaxation techniques and the therapist has prepared an anxiety hierarchy, in that situation, the actual phenomenon of desensitization initiates. The therapist, then, describes a series of events, starting with a neutral one, then moving to the one lowest in anxiety hierarchy at the bottom and progressing gradually up it. While remaining relaxed, the individual is instructed to imagine each situation as it is explained. As soon as the individual explains experiencing anxiety, the session is over. In  the next therapeutic situation, the treatment continues until the individual is able to remain relaxed while vividly imagining the events that previously evoked the greatest anxiety.                                                 The intensive treatment may be completed in one to three sessions. If the individual is trained to practise desensitization procedure voluntarily whenever one finds time, it becomes easier for the therapist to achieve cure. In vivo desensitization, in which, the individual is instructed to enter real-life situations similar to the ones imagined in therapeutic sessions, is the top most. There may be the client who demonstrate (a) difficulties in relaxation, (b) misleading or irrelevant hierarchies, and (c) inadequacies of imagery.                     Aversion therapy                                 Aversion therapy is the approach that involves the modification of undesirable behavior by the method of punishment. Punishment may be in the form of removal of positive reinforcers or the enforcement of aversive stimuli. An aversive stimulus is electric shock. Medicines may also be used. Kantorovich (1930) administered electric shocks to alcoholics on the sight, smell, and taste of alcohol. Lovaas (1977) found electric shock to be effective in extreme cases of severely disturbed autistic children. Irrational and maladaptive thoughts- obsessions, delusions, and hallucinations- may also be made less effective or extinct by aversion therapy.Ethical problem involved in the use of electric shock has made it diminished. Differential reinforcement of other responses, in which, behaviors incompatible with the undesired behavior are reinforced, also enable to remove the reinforcement that has been maintaining maladaptive behavior.

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