systematic desensitisation

Last reviewed 01/2018

Systematic desensitisation is a method for the treatment of phobic states. It originally involved the following:

  • the construction of a hierarchy of fears
  • training in relaxation - the relaxed state is incompatible with anxiety
  • graded exposure (in imagination) and relaxation
  • homework - practice in real life

Further research has demonstrated that neither relaxation nor the construction of a hierarchy is necessary.

All that is required is exposure to the fear - the outcome is improved if the feared stimulus is real rather than imaginary.

The patient should be exposed to the stimulus until the anxiety has subsided completely or else the exposure may be detrimental.

The outcomes following systematic desensitisation are:

  • 70% show improvement in symptoms
  • few patients are completely free of anxiety