Psychological mediation widely used to assist people with phobias

21.06.2020

Phobias are among the most frequent and widespread psychological disorders among the western population, and it is estimated that it affects approximately 10% to 15% of this.

Fortunately, psychology has developed methods and techniques that help overcome these types of problems, and in fact, it is one of the psychopathological disorders that respond best to treatment.

In this article we will see what one of those forms of intervention used against phobias consists of: systematic desensitization. But, first of all, let's see what the anxiety disorder we have started talking about consists of.

What is a phobia?

Phobias are a set of psychological disorders belonging to the category of anxiety disorders. They are characterized in that the people who develop them suffer a pattern of appearance of sudden elevations in the level of anxiety when exposed to certain situations; as a consequence, they usually try to avoid these situations before they occur, or to flee or withdraw quickly once the increase in anxiety has been generated, to stop feeling bad as soon as possible.

On the other hand, phobias are as varied as the number of situations or stimuli capable of triggering phobic reactions, and that is why there is talk of needle phobia, driving phobia, spider phobia, etc. Of course, those who develop a phobia, usually only suffer phobic-type anxiety reactions to a specific type of objects, living things, places or situations. For example, a phobia of blood does not imply fearing dogs, planes, etc.

The main symptoms that appear in a phobic crisis are the following:

  • Heart rate rise
  • Sickness
  • Cold sweats
  • Tremors
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Catastrophic thoughts about what will happen
  • Digestion problems

What is systematic desensitization applied to phobias?

Systematic desensitization is a form of psychological intervention belonging to behavioral therapies and, by extension, cognitive behavioral therapy, and is widely used above all to treat certain anxiety disorders, such as phobias.

The fundamental idea on which it is based is to help patients cope with those situations that they fear because of the phobia, causing them to come not to eliminate the anxiety reaction, but to dominate it and to facilitate its gradual fading.

To do this, what is done is to begin to expose the person to situations very similar to those generated by the phobic reaction, in a controlled environment and following the guidelines given by the psychologist, making them not give in and flee from that kind of exhibitions.

This is achieved among other things by following a difficulty curve, starting with not very intense experiences and then making them increasingly anxious. To achieve this, we usually work with guided imagination exercises, images, and sometimes 3D virtual reality resources or real stimuli, when necessary and possible.

On the other hand, one more characteristic of systematic desensitization is that, at the same time that the patient is exposed to "uncomfortable" situations that trigger at least part of a phobic reaction, he is helped to induce in himself a state of relaxation, through various psychological techniques. In this way, the experience that used to be associated with anxiety (spiders, needles, etc.) and being associated with opposite psychological and physiological processes.

Thus, the purpose of systematic desensitization applied to phobias is to allow the person to normalize the fact of experiencing the proximity of those objects, living beings, places or situations that they have been dreading, helping to stop giving them so much importance. It is a process of authentic emotional and fully experiential training, which cannot be replaced simply by theoretical learning about what a phobia is: people usually know that the fear they feel in phobia crises is irrational, but Despite this, it limits their lives.

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