Systematic Desensitization of Fears: Wolpe’s Findings

In 1961, Dr. Joseph Wolpe published an article titled: The systematic desensitization treatment of neuroses. His findings changed the way counselors and therapists now help patients with anxiety disorders, or neuroses.


The process of systematic desensitization begins with relaxation training, where the therapist/counselor will train their patient on how to relax their body. Next, the patient and therapist will create a hierarchy of fear/anxiety. For example, if someone has a strong phobia of heights, their hierarchy of anxiety may first begin with something that produces a small amount of fear, like thinking about someone else walking on a bridge. The hierarchy continues until you get to the thing the patient would fear most. In this example, it may be imagining themselves standing on a tall building looking down.

After the hierarchy is complete, systematic desensitization can begin. First, the patient reaches a state of relaxation. Then, the therapist will guide the patient through their hierarchy with imagination. All the while, the patient is encouraged to stay relaxed, while they are imaging their fears.


While this method of counseling is effective, it does not always help every patient. It is important to note that there are many methods of therapy, and the solution is not one method fits all. Every individual is unique, so their therapy must be unique as well.

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