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What is fear? In a simple sense, it is a connection between certain
neutral stimuli and an inappropriate emotional reaction (identified as
fear), such as a fear of heights or leaving home or public speaking etc.
Desensitization is a treatment procedure designed to break that
connection and replace the fear response to the situation with a
stronger relaxed response. It is also called counter-conditioning. Fear
is countered with calm relaxation, since you can't feel both fear and
calm at the same time.
How is this done? Very gradually. You start with mildly scary
situations where a strong relaxed response might over-ride the weak
anxiety response. You imagine being in that slightly disturbing scene
while remaining very relaxed. You do this over and over, breaking the
connection with fear. Next, you do the same thing with a slightly more
scary situation. You continue this process until you can imagine
climbing a tower, leaving home, or speaking to a crowd without
experiencing strong fear. Then you are ready to handle reality (not
without some anxiety but without overwhelming fear).
To relieve excessive, unreasonable or unneeded fears and
traumatic memories, such as a fear of heights, violence, war,