Phobias: self-help through desensitisation

Systematic Desensitization and you

Developed by South African psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe (1915- 1997) in the 40’s, ‘systematic desensitisation’ is an effective, proven method of becoming less sensitive to source of your phobia.

Although normally applied by a therapist, you can use this as a self help method. Be aware that, though effective, it can be a slow process. So, if you are going to follow this route, you will need patience and the determination to stick with it for weeks or even months.

But… it does work.

And you can do it yourself – without having to work with, and pay for, the services of a professional therapist. True. You can use this yourself – and the only cost is your own time and determination.

How does it work

You create a list of the things which trigger your fear – ranging from something which affects you in a very mild manner and progressing through more powerful triggers to the one which is unbearable.

You then work ‘systematically’ through the list of triggers gradually desensitising yourself to each trigger – to the point where you can think of a particular trigger without fear -with a ‘Ho Hum’ response.

As each step in the hierarchy is ticked off – as you are able to think of and encounter that particular trigger – you move up to dealing with the next more powerful trigger. And deal with that.

The main steps are

  1. Understand how to desensitise yourself
  2. Learn the skill of relaxation.
  3. Build a hierarchy of fears
  4. Gradually work your way upwards through your hierarchy desensitising yourself to each one.

In essence, it’s a very practical process and it is managed by you.

It’s best to use desensitisation on mild phobias

Mild or severe phobia?

Self help using desensitisation is not suitable for severe phobias because the emotions are likely to be too powerful for self help methods. A severe phobia is best resolved with professional assistance.

It is likely that you will know instinctively whether your’s is a phobia that will respond to this self help approach. However as a rough guide check where your phobic reaction lies on an intensity scale of 1-10.

Imagine that 10 is the highest intensity – virtually being overwhelmed at the thought of the stimulus – and 1 is a mild ‘ho-hum’ uneasiness.

If your response to even thinking about the subject evokes an intensity of 8 or higher you would be well advised to seek professional help rather than attempting to do it by yourself. Below 8 indicates that self help methods are likely to work – with a systematic and persistent approach.

‘Complex Phobias’

You can use desensitisation on ‘complex phobias’, such as fear of flying, and on ‘social phobias’. However do prepare thoroughly as this will make the difference between success and disappointment.

Prepare very detailed hierarchy. Take a few weeks to do this, adding to it as the ideas occur to you. While doing this you can be practising your relaxation skills.

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