Behavioural approach to treating phobias

Lucy Garland
Mind Map by Lucy Garland, updated more than 1 year ago
Lucy Garland
Created by Lucy Garland almost 4 years ago


AS - Level Psychology (Psychopathology) Mind Map on Behavioural approach to treating phobias, created by Lucy Garland on 04/13/2016.

Resource summary

Behavioural approach to treating phobias
1 Systematic desensitisation
1.1 This is a behavioural therapy designed to gradually reduce phobic anxiety through the principle of classical conditioning.
1.2 Essentially a new response to the phobic stimulus is learned by pairing it with relaxation instead of anxiety. This learning of a different response is called counterconditioning.
1.3 There are 3 processes involved in SD.
1.3.1 1. The anxiety hierarchy - a list of situations related to the phobic stimulus that provoke anxiety arranged in the order of least to most frightening.
1.3.2 2. Relaxation - therapist teaches the patient to relax as deeply as possible e.g. breathing exercises or mental imagery techniques. It can also be achieved using drugs such as Valium.
1.3.3 3. Exposure - exposed to the phobic stimulus whilst in relaxed state, working their way up the hierarchy across several sessions. They move up the hierarchy if they can stay relaxed in the lower levels. Treatment is successful when the patient can stay relaxed in situations high on the anxiety hierarchy.
1.4 It is effective in the treatment of specific phobias. Gilroy et al. found that after three 45-minute sessions, 3 months later and 33 months later they were less fearful than a control group. This is a strength because it shows that SD is helpful in reducing anxiety and the effects are long lasting.
1.5 It is suitable for a diverse range of patients e.g. those with learning disabilities also may find flooding difficult.
1.6 It is more acceptable to patients as they prefer it more. This is because it does not involve the same degree of trauma as flooding and it involves some pleasant relaxation procedures. This is reflected by low refusal rates and low attrition rates (number of patients dropping out of treatment.
2 Flooding
2.1 Involves exposing phobic patients to their phobic stimulus without a gradual build up of anxiety. Patients are immediately expose to a very frightening situation.
2.2 Flooding sessions are typically longer than SD, one session often lasting 2-3 hours. Sometimes only one session is needed to cure a phobia.
2.3 Flooding stops phobic responses very quickly. This may be because, without the option of avoidance behaviour, the patient quickly learns that the phobic stimulus is harmless.
2.3.1 In classical conditioning terms this process is called extinction - a learned response is extinguished when the conditioned stimulus is encountered without the unconditioned stimulus. The result is that the CS no longer produces the conditioned response of fear.
2.4 Flooding is not unethical per se but it is unpleasant so it is important that patients give fully informed consent.
2.5 It is as effective as other treatments which is a strength as it means that patients are free of symptoms as soon as possible and makes the treatment cheaper.
2.6 It is less effective for some types of phobias e.g. social phobias which have cognitive aspects. These types of phobias may benefit more from cognitive therapies which tackle irrational thinking.
2.7 It is a very traumatic experience and often patients are unwiling to see it through to the end. This means time and money is often wasted on preparing patients only to have them refuse to start or complete treatment.
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