Systematic desensitization: Treatment for anxiety and phobias

Anxiety disorders is an umbrella term that includes several disorders that cause exaggerated and irrational fears, apprehensions, worries, etc. Severe anxiety is extremely debilitating and can disrupt one’s daily activities and affect the quality of life. It leads to responses that are exaggerated and out of proportion in nature. Besides affecting the way a person behaves and feels, such disorders are associated with a range of physical symptoms.

Some common anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), separation anxiety disorder (SAD), etc. Anxiety is usually a response to external factors, but much of it is also associated with one’s internal negative “self-talk.”

An effective and holistic treatment plays a decisive role in making people suffering from such crippling disorders capable of managing severe levels of anxiety by developing efficacious coping skills. While the milder forms of anxiety can be mitigated by making essential lifestyle changes like exercise and experiential therapies that aim at reducing stress levels, other forms of anxiety might require counseling, talk therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), etc.

Useful psychological treatment options for anxiety

Some of the effective psychological treatments are CBT and exposure therapy (ET). As such, CBT consists of two other therapies that include cognitive therapy (CT) and behavior therapy (BT). While CT assesses the impact of negative thoughts or cognitions to anxiety, BT analyzes behavior and responses triggered by anxiety.

The core ambition of a structured assessment like CBT is to comprehend the way one thinks and behave that affect his or her feelings and emotions. Due to its role in determining the thought and behavior patterns that trigger anxiety, CBT has become the most popular therapy for treating anxiety disorders and has been effective in treating various types of other related conditions. The fundamental principle of CBT is that the internal perception of the situation compared to external factors play a crucial role in affecting one’s anxiety levels.

On the other side, ET practices the repeated exposure of a patient to objects or situations that frightens him or her so that the fear or phobia is eventually diminished. This therapy may be used in conjunction with the CBT. Both the therapies address the negative thought patterns helping people change them so that they are able to lead a positive and tension-free life.

Effectiveness of systematic desensitization therapy

Systematic desensitization therapy (SDT) is a type of ET done in a step-by-step approach. During this treatment, a patient is exposed to the anxiety-triggering object, event or place. At the same time, he or she practices some types of relaxation techniques to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. It allows patients to challenge their phobias in a systematically gradual manner and subsequently builds confidence and take control of their anxiety.

There are three parts to this therapy. In the first step, the patient learns some relaxation techniques that will help to reduce the responses to anxiety that manifest as trembling, hyperventilation, etc. In the second step, a list of anxiety-provoking situations is drawn up with a clear and measurable objective. In the third step, the situations are enacted one by one over a period of time and each time, the patient learns to use the relaxation techniques to make his or her anxiety subside until he or she progresses toward the final goal.

Though several research and studies have proven the effectiveness of SDT in treating phobia, the following considerations need to be kept in mind:

  • It is more effective in treating the specific phobias of objects or places compared to treating “free-floating” anxieties, such as agoraphobia or social phobia.
  • It would not be effective in treating anxiety when there is a deficit in skill sets. If a patient is fully equipped with the skills or materials and yet develops anxiety, then this therapy may be used as treatment.
  • The effectiveness of this therapy depends neither on the severity/duration of the anxiety nor on if it was acquired gradually or suddenly.
  • This therapy may not be effective in treating anxieties that stem from a sense of survival, such as darkness, heights, dangerous animals, etc.

Help is at hand for treating anxiety and phobia

SDT is a comparatively new technique that has consistently proven to be effective in treating most types of anxiety disorders and phobias. With an array of treatment measures around, it is now easier than before to overcome such debilitating anxiety disorders.

If you or your loved one is suffering from anxiety, contact the Anxiety Disorder Treatment Arizona to learn about the latest progress being made in anxiety disorder treatment in Arizona. You can also locate the best anxiety disorder treatment centers in Arizona by calling our 24/7 helpline 866-425-9317 or chatting online with our representatives.