Desensitization therapy is a behavioural technique used to treat many different types of fear-based psychological conditions. It is structured on the basic premise that the more one is exposed to the object or situation that causes them distress then they are less likely to fear it. However, the treatment takes the idea a bit further by performing the desensitization in a controlled environment, while making sure to calm and relax the patient in order to create a more positive association with the experience. By doing this procedure over and over, the patient is developing a positive, learned response towards whatever is causing their phobia.
The procedure for going through desensitization therapy involves being exposed to an increasing anxiety-provoking set of experiences. The therapist typically begins at a level that does not elicit a fear response from the patient. For example, someone with a fear of snakes might not be able to touch or view a picture of one without getting apprehensive, but they can talk about them without too much trouble. Starting at the lowest rung, the therapist relaxes the patient and then moves up the ladder. Exposing the person repeatedly to that which they fear, while making sure to create a positive, calm experience, is the basis of desensitization.
Desensitization therapy can be performed with actual, physical exposure therapy, or can also employ hypnotherapy in order to achieve the desired result. While real-life exposure utilises pictures, objects, and actual situations, hypnotherapy can achieve a similar result by helping the patient to recall that which they fear with varying levels of detail and intensity. While moving up the ranks, the therapist is constantly them that they are safe and gives suggestions in order to relax, thus achieving successful desensitization. For people with a high level of anxiety, this is sometimes a good option as the thought of eventually coming face to face with their fear might prevent them from getting treatment altogether.
This is an effective way to address fears and anxieties, but it also has the added benefit of typically working quicker than traditional forms of therapy. It is based on a simple cause and effect model and works under the assumption that phobias can be learned, and therefore, unlearned as well. This allows desensitization to directly address the fear-based response instead of needing to sort through the patient's history. The short length of treatment coupled with focusing solely on the problematic thoughts is what makes desensitization therapy so effective.