Book Definition: A behavioral therapy technique in which anxiety is extinguished by exposing the patient to an anxiety-provoking stimulus.

In Your Own Words

  • When patients are to imagine a fearful situation, later they may move form just imagining it to being exposed to it.
  • A therapy that involves overcoming phobias by systematically increasing a patient's contact with the thing that they fear.
  • Gradually Exposing the patient to their phobia in order to diminish it
  • The patient receiving therapy faces their irrational fears and/or witnesses someone else face that fear.
  • Exposing the patient in order for them to overcome their fear.
  • Slowly working with a patient through multiple stages until the anxiety is gone
  • Being presented directly with the scary stimulus.


  • Pam has agoraphobia; her therapist takes her to Grand Central Station each therapy session they have for gradually increasing amounts of time.
  • Someone's scared of heights so they're forced to imagine standing on a high building, then shown pictures of tall buildings, then eventually brought to the top of a tall building, until they are no longer afraid of heights.
  • Someone who has a fear of blood is shown gruesome pictures, and watches other people get blood drawn to nullify the fear.
  • This can be divided into a hierarchy of fears for example (a fear of spiders) having the first step be just a picture of a spider while the last step being that you actually confront a spider and even hold it.
  • A person who is afraid of sleeping without a nightlight, they can first identify why the person doesn't like the dark and can't sleep without a nightlight, then imagine being in the dark, and then try sleeping without a nightlight
Helps understand the level of fear
Only modifies the problem,
it doesn't go into the depth of it
Can be relatively quickly
Problem can come back

Additional Resources