The key difference between systematic desensitization and exposure therapy is that systemic desensitization is a graduated exposure therapy conducted at a very slow pace, while exposure therapy is a rapid form of therapy conducted in a short period.
Phobia is a common condition in society. Different individuals possess different types of phobias. Hence, it is important to identify such phobic conditions and use therapeutic sessions to overcome these conditions completely. Systemic desensitization and exposure therapy are two types of therapies that assist in overcoming phobic conditions.
1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What is Systematic Desensitization
3. What is Exposure Therapy
4. Similarities – Systematic Desensitization and Exposure Therapy
5. Systematic Desensitization vs Exposure Therapy in Tabular Form
6. Summary – Systematic Desensitization vs Exposure Therapy
What is Systematic Desensitization?
Systemic desensitization is an evidence-based technique implemented to treat individuals suffering from different types of phobias. This technique uses a gradual exposure method to overcome the phobia at a very slow pace. Hence, this treatment is time-consuming, but it provides efficient results. Systemic desensitization is also known as graduated exposure therapy. The treatment method starts with the least fearful exposure and gradually moves through levels of fear until the final stage. Systemic desensitization involves three main steps. First, the psychologist will allow the individual to follow muscle relaxation techniques. Then the individual is asked to note down a list of fears and rank them from lowest to the highest according to the intensity level of fear. Finally, the psychologist will expose the individual to phobias as a list, starting from the least fearful exposure. The final stage of therapy is done in two ways: in vitro exposure and in vivo exposure.
During in vivo exposure, the individual undergoes a real phobic stimulus exposure. During in vitro exposure, the individual experiences an imagined phobic stimulus exposure. In vitro exposure has practical limitations since the technique relies on the individual’s ability to imagine the phobic situation vividly. Systemic desensitization is a slow process. It would take 6-8 sessions for a favorable result. When the therapy duration is longer, the expected results are higher in this method. Systemic desensitization allows a controlled approach during treatment. Hence, it avoids the neglect of treatment by the individual due to the absence of disturbing elements.
What is Exposure Therapy?
Exposure therapy is a form of rapid psychological treatment that assists individuals in confronting their fears. When a person is in fear of something in life, one should always try to avoid that particular fear. This could be a fear of objects, activities, people, or situations. This condition of avoiding helps the person to overcome the feelings of fear only for a short period. This could become worse over a long period and can cause severe mental disorders. Hence, psychologists recommend exposure therapy to such individuals. This method has been an extremely helpful treatment for individuals suffering from a range of issues such as panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Treatment methods in exposure theory vary. The psychologist will determine the best strategic treatment option when conducting exposure therapy. This includes in vivo exposure (directly facing the feared instance, object, or activity in real life), imagine exposure (vividly imagining the fear), virtual reality exposure (using technology to conduct in vivo exposure), and interoceptive exposure (intentionally bringing on feared physical sensations that are harmless). All these methods are placed under different ways such as graded exposure, flooding, systemic desensitization, prolonged exposure, and exposure and response prevention. Exposure therapy finally helps in different ways, such as habituation, extinction, self-efficacy, and emotional processing. The only limitation of this treatment method is the short supply of well-trained specialists to conduct. Hence, this method is not used as a regular treatment method.
What are the Similarities Between Systematic Desensitization and Exposure Therapy?
- Both therapeutics are related to psychological disorders.
- Moreover, they are very customized as per the case.
- Both approaches are not typically predictable.
- These methods treat phobic conditions of individuals.
- Both treatment methods require trained phycologists or therapists.
- During both therapies, the individual either will imagine the phobic situation or actually face the phobic situation.
What is the Difference Between Systematic Desensitization and Exposure Therapy?
The key difference between systematic desensitization and exposure therapy is that systemic desensitization is a slow graduated process while exposure therapy utilizes more rapid approaches. Hence, the method of conducting the two therapeutic treatment procedures differs. That is, systemic desensitization uses approaches like muscle relaxation, while exposure therapy uses more virtual and interceptive approaches. Moreover, the main limitation of exposure therapy is the shortage of trained experts. On the other hand, during systemic desensitization, the expected result could vary depending on the ability of the individual to imagine the phobia more vividly.
The below infographic presents the differences between systematic desensitization and exposure therapy in tabular form for side by side comparison.
Summary – Systematic Desensitization vs Exposure Therapy
Phobias are common mental conditions seen in many individuals. Systemic desensitization and exposure therapy are two different therapeutic procedures well-trained psychologists and therapists use to treat phobic conditions. Systemic desensitization is an evidence-based slow technique, while exposure therapy is a rapid process. Both processes consist of different limitations and advantages. During both therapies, the individual will either imagine the phobic situation or actually get exposed to the phobic situation. Out of the two types of therapies, the systemic desensitization technique is used more commonly. So, this summarizes the difference between systematic desensitization and exposure therapy.
1. Gupta, S. “What is exposure therapy?” Very Well Mind.
2. Mcleod, S. “Systematic desensitization as a counter-conditioning process” Simply Psychology.
1. “Fear-anxiety-depression-woman” (CC0) via Pixabay