I’m Afraid: Can Systematic Desensitization Therapy Help Me?

By | July 11, 2019

Systematic desensitization therapy is a therapeutic approach that combines relaxation with exposure therapy. If you have specific phobias, you’ll benefit from this form of mental health treatment. People struggle with fears. Think of the quote from Dune by Frank Herbert, “Fear is the mind killer.” Phobias can take over people’s lives. If they can work through these fears, their lives will change forever. If you’re dealing with fears, you can work through them, but it requires relaxing your mind to the point where you can figure out the source of your fear. For that to happen, you need to relax and find a way to confront the cause of your fears gradually. Is this kind of therapy right for you? Let’s take a look.

How is it done?

Systematic Desensitization has three steps. First, you’ll relax your muscles. You’ll learn how to do this from your therapist. After that, you create a comprehensive list of your fears. You need to rank them in terms of how prevalent they are. Which is the most common fear that’s submerging your life? You want to focus on the fear that is the most overpowering. You might make a list of fears from one to ten and start with number one, then proceed to work your way down that list to figure out how you can manage these fears better. This form of treatment is very similar to exposure therapy except that systematic desensitization therapy involves different kinds of relaxation types.

The development of Systematic Desensitization Therapy

Joseph Wolpe developed systematic desensitization therapy during the 1950s. He was a South African psychiatrist and specialized in behavior therapy. Systematic desensitization therapy is based on the principle of classical conditioning which was defined by Pavlov, a Russian physiologist. An example of this would be where a dog hears a bell and knows that it’s feeding time; the dog is conditioned to understand that the sound of the bell means that it’s time to eat. So, with Systematic Desensitization Therapy, a person is going to associate something positive with their fear rather than something negative. Just as the dog learned to affiliate the noise with it being time to eat, you can train your brain to solidify different affiliations over time.


A clinician who is practicing Systematic Desensitization Therapy will help a client relax. They might have a client close their eyes and relax all of their muscles. They’ll help them get to a complete state of relaxation where they’re then going to imagine something that causes them distress. When you’re in a state of deep relaxation and in a safe place with a therapist you can start to work through fears. These phobias could be impacting your life or your relationship.

The hierarchy of fears or phobias

Let’s say that someone is afraid of going on a train. That person might then go down a list of things that are related to trains and will get more fearful as the list goes on. It could start with a toy train, then they might listen to the sound of a train going by, and then they’ll go to the train station in person. After that, they’ll get onto the train car, and finally, they’ll take a ride on the train. The person writes a list of things that they will try to help themselves get to a place where they can get over their fear, and remember, this takes time. If you have phobias, his is an excellent form of treatment.

Online therapy

Online therapy is a perfect place to get a sense of the state of your mental health and how you can get help for phobias or anxiety disorders. If you are interested in trying Systematic Desensitization Therapy, you can find a provider in your local area or work with an online therapist. Online therapy is convenient, and it’s available anywhere with a reliable internet connection. Regardless of your phobias, there is help out there. With the assistance of the right therapist, you can overcome your fears.

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