Systematic desensitization is an anxiety treatment technique that can help phobic and anxious individuals gradually and effectively work through their fears without facing them directly.
Systematic desensitization is a form of classical conditioning that involves pairing a relaxed state with stimuli that usually cause fear. This method teaches individuals to relax in the presence of anxiety-causing stimuli.
It is doable to use a systematic desensitization method with the help of professional mental health providers or on one's own. It involves a series of steps, beginning with creating an anxiety hierarchy, starting with the least anxiety-provoking stimulus to the largest.
Through systematic desensitization, individuals learn their maximum level of fear, called their fear threshold. Then, they work to gradually and systematically move above that threshold.
During the process, individuals are encouraged to visualize scenarios, think through thoughts, and use relaxation techniques that help calm the mind and body. It helps to reduce the fear and anxiety associated with the stimulus.
Systematic desensitization is typically done using imagery, where individuals learn to recall a calm and peaceful moment mentally. As the anxiety diminishes from the imagined scenario, the individual learns better to manage those uncomfortable emotions or stimuli in real life.
Systematic desensitization can also involve progressive muscle relaxation or tightening and loosening of different muscles throughout the body to bring about a sense of calmness.
Systematic desensitization is an evidence-based approach to reducing or eliminating phobias, though it does require patience and commitment. Depending on the severity of the condition and the individual's dedication to treatment, it can take several weeks or months.
A significant component of systematic desensitization is behavioral techniques. It includes creating a fear hierarchy and having the individual identify their fear triggers and the response they produce.
Systematic desensitization is not a one-size-fits-all treatment and should be customized to each individual's needs. Depending on the level of anxiety, a therapist can tailor the approach accordingly.
Systematic desensitization aims to create a substitute emotion for fear, such as relaxation and peace. It enables individuals to replace negative and fearful thoughts with more positive ones.