Systematic desensitization

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Under the systematic desensitization is defined as a method of therapy in the field of behavioral therapy . It is often used for anxiety disorders and has the confrontation with fear-inducing topics as the subject. However, unlike flooding , it provides a step-by-step approach. Joseph Wolpe is considered to be the founder of systematic desensitization . Systematic desensitization is considered less effective than exposure therapy without a relaxation method. The systematic desensitization is sometimes even criticized as "avoidance management". In contrast to this, a stepped stimulus confrontation (i.e. without a relaxation method) can be useful if the patient can be more motivated, especially to practice between the sessions.


The therapist first works out a stimulus hierarchy with the patient (strength of the feeling of fear related to a topic), since most anxiety disorders in the person concerned have previously come to a generalization of stimuli . So has z. For example, someone who has a rat phobia is usually also afraid of mice, a little less of guinea pigs and even "a little" fear (a feeling of discomfort) of pelts and furs. The mere mental presentation of suitable objects or situations will also trigger fear. The less complex the symptoms, the more targeted the treatment can be.

The systematic desensitization then starts with a weak link in the previously created stimulus hierarchy and confronts the patient with an idea of ​​an object that the person concerned associates with the actual phobia object to a limited extent. In addition, fear agonistic behavior is practiced, usually a so-called progressive muscle relaxation (also: progressive muscle relaxation, PMR for short ). If fear arises when introducing a stimulus, the imagination is stopped immediately and relaxation begins. Once the patient has got used to it, i.e. he is desensitized, he can tackle the next level and dare to approach it with the idea of ​​the mouse. The stimulus hierarchy is worked through step by step up to the trigger object of the mental disorder , so that the person affected is ultimately not necessarily completely cured of his disorder, but at least in the future can better deal with his feelings about certain objects or situations.


  • Joseph Wolpe: Practice of behavior therapy . 2nd reprint, Huber, Bern 1977, ISBN 3-456-30528-1

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  2. Hofmann, Stefan G .: Introduction to modern cognitive behavioral therapy. Psychotherapeutic solutions. Springer VS 2013
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  4. Batra, Anil / Wassmann, Reinhard / Buchkremer, Gerhard: Behavior Therapy. Basics - methods - areas of application. Thieme, 4th completely revised edition 2013