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Wolpe and Systematic Desensitization

Joseph Wolpe is another major contributor in the development of behavioral therapy. Systematic desensitization, a behavioral procedure used to treat phobias, is the most thoroughly investigated behavioral procedure to treat simple phobias (Emmelkamp, 2004). According to the theory of reciprocal inhibition, which underlies systematic desensitization, when a response incompatible with anxiety (i.e., relaxation) is paired with an anxiety-evoking stimuli (whatever the client reports is anxiety producing), then the association between the anxiety-producing stimulus and anxiety will be lessened (Wolpe, 1958). Through the use of systematic desensitization, clients are "desensitized" to their fears. First, clients are taught to use progressive relaxation to become completely relaxed. Using a hierarchy of stimuli arranged with the least-anxiety-provoking first and the most-anxiety-provoking last, the counselor or therapist asks the client to imagine each stimulus while remaining relaxed.

A Brief History of Cognitive Therapy

The earliest cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBTs) emerged in the early 1960s, but it was not until the 1970s that major works on CBT were written (Dobson & Dozois, 2001). The cognitive revolution brought forth by Aaron Beck, Albert Ellis, and others began as clinicians found that the available systems of therapy were not satisfactory. Beck (1976) was dissatisfied with psychoanalysis and behavioral therapy. Though trained as a psychoanalyst, Beck objected to the unconscious aspects of Freud's theory, asserting that people can be aware of factors that are responsible for emotional upsets and blurred thinking. At the same time, he found the radical behavioral explanation for human emotional disturbance to be too limited to adequately explain human emotional difficulties. For Beck (1976), psychological disturbances may be the result of "faulty learning, making incorrect inferences on the basis of inadequate or incorrect information, and not distinguishing adequately between imagination and reality" (pp. 19-20). Beck's work in cognitive therapy has been extremely influential in the treatment of depression and has been expanded to other psychological problems. The basics of his theory are presented later in this chapter.

The major professional organization dedicated to CBT is now called the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (abct.org). The organization was formed in 1966 as the Association for Advancement of Behavioral Therapies and changed to its present name in 2005. The new name tells about the increasing focus on the role of cognition.

 
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