systematic desensitization

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A technique of behaviour therapy, developed in the 1950s by the South African-born US psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe (1915–97) for treating phobias in particular, in which each member of a hierarchy of increasingly anxiety-provoking imaginary situations involving the phobic stimulus is repeatedly paired with a response that is physiologically incompatible with fear and anxiety, such as deep muscular relaxation, starting with the least frightening item and working up the hierarchy by degrees. An adaptation of the technique involving exposure to the actual phobic stimulus or situation is called in vivo desensitization. See also progressive relaxation, reciprocal inhibition.

Subjects: Psychology.

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