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Systematic Desensitization

  1. F. Dudley McGlynn

Published Online: 30 JAN 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0972

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

How to Cite

McGlynn, F. D. 2010. Systematic Desensitization. Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. 1–3.

Author Information

  1. Auburn University

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 30 JAN 2010


Systematic desensitization is a behavior therapy developed by Joseph Wolpe (1915–1997) for fear and anxiety. Treatment begins with an assessment that describes the objects and/or events that elicit fearfulness. It continues with three basic procedures: The therapist teaches the patient to relax the voluntary muscles. At the same time, the therapist and patient develop detailed descriptions of personal encounters with the objects and/or events that provoke fear and arrange them in order of increasing fearsomeness. Then the therapist instructs the patient to visualize the encounters in increasingly fearsome order while relaxed. The therapist also encourages the patient to confront the fearsome objects and/or events sometime after relaxed visualization of them.


  • behavior therapy;
  • systematic desensitization;
  • treatment methods