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One behavioural approach to treating phobias is through systematic desensitisation (SD). This is where patients gradually are introduced to or imagine the stimulus of the phobia and are taught relaxation techniques in a hierarchy to eventually treat the phobia. The other is flooding which is the same thing with no hierarchy, and the patient is immediately introduced to the stimulus to help reduce their fear.
An issue towards the flooding technique is that it is not for every patient as individual differences have to be taken into account i.e. the fact that some people are more sensitive than others when exposed to the stimulus. Furthermore, it can be very traumatic, and this means that they may quit during the treatment which ultimately reduces the effectiveness of the therapy for some people. Therefore, the effectiveness of flooding may be undermined due to this.
On the other hand, support for the flooding technique comes from the fact that it is very effective for those who choose to stick to it. For example: Craske et al (2008) concluded that flooding and SD were equally effective at treating phobias. In a study conducted by Choy et al, they agreed that both therapies were effective at reducing the symptoms of phobias, but flooding was more effective at directly treating the phobia. Therefore, this shows that if the longevity is there with the patients, and they can overcome the issue of the process being traumatic, it is likely to be a highly effective approach to treating phobias.
In regards to SD, support comes from it being effective in treating a wide range of phobias. This is further strengthened in the study by McGrath et al, who reported that about 75% of phobics respond to SD. This means that the success of this behavioural approach appears to lie with actual contact with the feared stimulus. Therefore, in vivo techniques are perhaps better than those using pictures or imagining the feared stimulus. However, this point links to a study conducted by Ohman et al, who found that SD is not as effective in treating phobias that have an underlying evolutionary survival component i.e. fear of the dark; meaning that they are only effective in treating phobias that have been acquired as a result of personal experience.
In addition to this, support for SD also comes from the fact that it can be self-administered, which has been proved to be successful by Humphrey- Social phobia. Tarik Al-Kubaisy recruited 99 phobic patients, and found that self-administered therapy was as effective as therapist-guided therapy. This links to the economic benefits of this in real-world applications- as it’s cheaper, and is able to be used by anyone in spite of their financial stability/status. Therefore, SD is effective, due to its adaptability to various ways that it can be carried out.
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