Classical Conditioning to
Overcome Phobias or Anxiety
Systematic desensitization, or desensitization therapy, is a therapy often used by counselors, with clients who have anxiety, fears and phobias.
The process works whether the fear is college test stress, a phobia or fear of snakes or spiders or a fear of heights.
Changing your thoughts can get rid of phobias and fears.
In stages, little by little, a client who has a phobia or who is very anxious, becomes more comfortable with the very things or situations that make him anxious.
Initially the anxious person identifies the circumstances that cause the anxiety and rates the severity of each situation that she names.
Then, working from the least stressful situation to those that cause the most stress, the client relearns behaviors, thoughts and reactions—and experiences success. With each success, the next level or situation becomes easier…
Steps of Desensitization Therapy
There are three steps in desensitization therapy:
#1 Practicing progressive relaxation - Anxious people often have trouble relaxing, and when you are relaxed, you can learn better and you are more open to suggestions. This is why, when you use self-hypnosis to overcome anxiety or for any other purpose—the first thing you do is achieve a relaxed state.
#2 Construction of an anxiety hierarchy - The anxious person develops a list of anxiety inducing scenes and then rates each situation on a scale from 100 to 0. A rating of zero would indicate that there is no stress associated with a situation and a rating of 100 would indicate that the stress associated with that situation is unbearable!
#3 Combining the relaxation with a mental image - of the anxiety producing event.
Here is an example of an Anxiety Hierarchy for college test anxiety:
|Initial Rating of Anxiety||College Test Anxiety Event|
|0||Registering for next semester’s courses|
|5||Discussing the course outline in class |
|20||You hear the professor announce in class that the mid-term exam will be held in 3 weeks|
|30||You discuss the difficulty of the upcoming exam with other students|
|45||You are reviewing your class notes one week before the mid-term exam|
|50||You attend a review session one week before the exam|
|60||Listening to the professor expect what to expect on the exam—the day before the exam|
|65||You are studying alone, one day before the exam|
|70||You are studying with others who are in the class, the night before the exam|
|75||You hear some of the best students in the class express their concern about the difficulty of the test—and their doubts about being prepared|
|80||At 2:00 a.m., you realize that you are running out of study time.|
|90||You enter the class just before the exam, and the professor reminds everyone that 1/2 of your grade will be based on this exam.|
|95||While reading the exam questions, you realize that you do not remember learning about several of the topics.|
|100||While you are taking the exam, one student leaves within 15 minutes and you hear several others coughing nervously, hyperventilating or muttering to themselves.|
How Does Systematic Desensitization Work?
Here is a simplified version of how systematic desensitization therapy works. The client first practices relaxing muscles, one by one. This is often done with soft music or the sound of water (rain, waterfalls, etc.) in the background.
When the client can relax, he closes his eyes and visualizes the first situation on his anxiety list. He pictures himself being successful, being relaxed and uses positive self-talk to reinforce his feelings of success.
- When he has mastered the first situation (mentally), he moves on to the next situation, which he initially reported was slightly more anxiety producing. When he masters this situation mentally, he moves on to the next, and so on.
- One variation of this, of course, is to mentally prepare—and then to actually experience the anxiety-producing experience—successfully. Each success leads to another…
- The ultimate success—and the goal of therapy—is to face the actual situation that is causing all the anxiety. In the example above, that would be the college exam or mid-term.
In addition to systematic desensitization, another approach (to overcoming phobias and anxiety) which utilizes the same principles, is simply to use self-hypnosis.
When using self-hypnosis for anxiety, you first relax and then you receive a number of suggestions that will train your subconscious mind to be relaxed during your formerly anxiety producing situations.
There are many different types of phobias or fears.
has many, very specific downloads for fears, phobias and anxiety.
If you are suffering from anxiety, you might want to consider self-hypnosis.
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Systematic Desensitization to Definition of Anxiety
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