treatment using systematic desensitization

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

systematic desensitization as a method of treatment

systematic desensitization is a method of therapy that is helpful in treating anxiety and phobias without involving sudden direct exposure like in the case of exposure therapy.

In systematic desensitization the fearful situation is divided into different levels and each level is experienced alone until you can feel relaxed while facing it. If you succeeded in passing through a certain level without losing control of your emotions then you should move to the next level and then do the same until you end up feeling relaxed while facing your worst fears.

this method should be used when fears are irrational (For example when being afraid of spiders) and not when you have a fear of something that might harm you in a way or another.

The following are the steps involved in systematic desensitization :

  • Divide your fears into levels: divide your scary situation into levels. for example if you fear darkness , the first level could be staying in a dark place with lots of friends, the second level could be staying with one friend and the third could be staying alone
  • Go through level one while being relaxed: start by the first level try to control your emotions as much as you can. Stay there until you find yourself calm and relaxed (note you should learn any of the stress relaxation technique) in order to be able to stay in control while facing your fears
  • Move on to level 2 if you succeeded in facing your fears while staying calm then move on to the next level and do the same until you finish all levels while staying relaxed and in control
  • If you can't face the situation: There is another way of applying systematic desensitization if you cant face your fears which is imagining the situations instead of experiencing them in real life, however this is not as effective as experiencing the real situation.

this method of treatment have got another benefit which is improving your self confidence because if you succeeded in facing a feared situation and neutralizing it instead of escaping from it then you will feel proud of yourself and as a result you will become more confident.

Why systematic desensitization works

Most irrational fears are based on irrational ideas. For example a person who fears darkness might believe that he will be attacked by ghosts and that might be the cause of his fear.

What systematic desensitization does is that it lets the person discover that his fears are irrational and so he realizes that there is nothing he should be afraid of.

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