systematic desensitization

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Related to Graduated exposure therapy: systemic desensitization

sys·te·mat·ic de·sen·si·tiz·a·tion

a type of behavior therapy for eliminating phobias or anxieties: the patient and therapist construct a list of imagined scenes eliciting the phobia, ranked from least to most anxiety producing; the patient is then trained in deep muscle relaxation and repeatedly asked to imagine himself or herself in the presence of the least anxiety-producing scene on the list until the patient feels fully relaxed while doing so; the procedure is repeated for each scene on the list until the patient develops the capacity to feel relaxed with any of the anxiety-producing scenes; real life scenes are then substituted for the imagined scenes.
Synonym(s): reciprocal inhibition (2)

systematic desensitization

Desensitization, exposure therapy Psychology A type of behavioral intervention for managing anxiety, phobic disorders and anticipatory side effects–eg, nausea associated with chemotherapy. See Anticipatory side effects, Aversion therapy, Behavioral therapy, Encounter group therapy, Flooding, Imaging aversion therapy, Relaxing imagery. Cf Attentional distraction, Reciprocal inhibition, Relaxation training.


(1) in psychology, a form of behaviour therapy in which an anxiety-provoking stimulus is repeatedly paired with a relaxation response, either in the imagination or in real life (the latter known as in vivo desensitization) in order to eventually eliminate the anxiety response and replace it with the relaxation response. In systematic desensitization a hierarchy of increasingly anxiety-provoking stimuli is established and each stimulus is paired with the relaxation response in turn, beginning with the least feared and working towards the most feared. Also known as reciprocal inhibition therapy; (2) in medical practice, treatment of a hypersensitive response to an allergen, by deliberate exposure to a very small, and then a gradually increasing, dose; (3) with reference to repeated dose of a drug, a progressive decline in its effect.

systematic desensitization (sisˈ·t·maˑ·tik dēˈ·senˈ·si·ti·zāˑ·shn),

n 1., the gradual eradication of a patient's phobias, which sometimes involves the introduction of coping mechanisms and can be accelerated with the use of hypnosis.
2., stimulation of the immune system and reduction in allergic response through exposure to steadily increasing doses of substance to which the patient is allergic.

sys·te·mat·ic de·sen·si·ti·za·tion

(sistĕ-matik dē-sensi-tī-zāshŭn)
Behavior therapy for eliminating phobias or anxieties.
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