traumas, usually from childhood and often well repressed (see the end
of this list).
Secondly, Stampfl & Levis (1967) developed a treatment method
that involved telling phobic patients horror stories that aroused their
intense fears. It was called implosive therapy and is now known as
imaginal flooding. The idea is for a phobic person to imagine scary
situations and experience the fear as intensely as possible. Usually the
therapist vividly describes the scary scenes, deliberately frightening
the patient as much as possible (he/she is told the purpose). The
phobic person continues imagining the stressful scenes for a long time.
Gradually the emotional reaction to the ghastly images declines.
Eventually the patient is imagining the terrifying fantasies but not
responding with fear. In this way, much like cue exposure for
compulsives, the connection between a stimulus (flying) and a
response (fear) was broken, i.e. unlearned. And, the patient has
learned that he/she can stand intense fears.
Thirdly, another way to reduce a fear using flooding is to place
yourself in the actual frightening situation until the fear "runs down."
As in Exposure, the confrontation could result in a strong fear
response initially that gradually declines. Suppose you had a fear of
heights or elevators. Getting on an elevator might be terrifying but if
you stay on it all day, you learn three things: (a) nothing terrible
happens (beyond the initial stress and possible motion sickness), (b)
by the end of several hours you are going up and down without fear,
and (c) you are not weak, you can stand stress, you can master the
fear. Flooding is the treatment of choice for agoraphobia.
Fourthly, a similar approach, using flooding, involves the
paradoxical intention of trying to increase a fear or anxiety. For
example, a female student in my class had a fear of the dark,
particularly coming home and imagining that someone was lurking in
the dark to assault her. She had never been attacked but it was a
serious and long-standing fear. First, she tried self-desensitization. It
did little good. Then she decided that whenever these scary fantasies
started, instead of resisting them she would try to see just how scary
she could make them. Much to her surprise, after trying to really scare
herself a few times, the fears diminished. It seemed to her as though
the unwanted fantasies went away (gave up?) as soon as they lost the
power to upset her.
People who have panic attacks often think they are going to faint
or are having a heart attack and will die. So, therapists using
paradoxical intention may ask the patients to exaggerate their
symptoms, e.g. they might be instructed to become frightened and
sweat or to faint or to try to bring on a heart attack. Of course, these
dire expectations, that phobics desperately try to avoid, can't
ordinarily be produced even when they try hard to do so. So, people
can learn to "take charge" of their symptoms and, thus, the attacks
lose their power to scare the victim.