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Flooding (psychology)


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How flooding works

"Flooding" is an effective form of treatment for phobias amongst other psychopathologies. It works on the principles of classical conditioning or respondent conditioning - a form of Pavlov's classical conditioning - where patients change their behaviors to avoid negative stimuli. According to Pavlov, we learn through associations, so if we have a phobia it is because we associate the feared object or stimulus with something negative.

Flooding uses a technique based on Pavlov's classical conditioning that uses exposure. There are different forms of exposure, such as imaginal exposure, virtual reality exposure, and in vivo exposure. While systematic desensitization may use these other types of exposure, flooding uses in vivo exposure, actual exposure to the feared stimulus. A patient is confronted with a situation in which the stimulus that provoked the original trauma is present. The psychiatrist there usually offers very little assistance or reassurance other than to help the patient to use relaxation techniques in order to calm themselves. Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation are common in these kinds of classical conditioning procedures. As the adrenaline and fear response has a time limit, theoretically a person will eventually have to calm down and realize that their phobia is unwarranted. Flooding can be done through the use of virtual reality and is fairly effective.

Psychiatrist Joseph Wolpe (1973) carried out an experiment which demonstrated flooding. He took a girl who was scared of cars, and drove her around for hours. Initially the girl was hysterical but she eventually calmed down when she realized that her situation was safe. From then on she associated a sense of ease with cars.

Flooding therapy is not for every individual, and the therapist will discuss with the patient the levels of anxiety they are prepared to endure during the session. It may also be true that exposure is not for every therapist and therapists seem to shy away from use of the technique.

Why flooding is necessary

Phobias by definition are irrational fears, and these phobias can get in the way of everyday life. For example, a person with a phobia of cars would have a hard time crossing the street or even walking around town. For some reason this person has developed the belief that all cars are dangerous and need to be avoided. Often, a person who has developed a phobia of a particular thing or situation will go to extreme lengths to avoid that situation. As long as they avoid exposure to the thing that they fear, they have no way of knowing that it can't hurt them.

Organizations

Flooding is a behavior therapy technique. Many organizations exist for behavior therapists around the world. The World Association for Behavior Analysis offers a certification in behavior therapy, which includes questions on flooding and exposure therapy.

See also

Desensitization (psychology)

Immersion Therapy

Systematic desensitization

Sensitization


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