Covert Desensitization
Another form of desensitization, covert desensitization is an effective technique for helping an individual overcome fears by learning to relax in the presence of images that arouse anxiety. Rather than actually presenting the feared stimulus, the therapist asks the subject to imagine the presence of it. Many students experience anxiety when taking examinations. If you could learn to relax during a test, you would be able to focus on the test questions, and ultimately improve your grade in the course. Let's take test anxiety as an example of covert desensitization. After you have learned to relax, construct an anxiety hierarchy. You should have about 10 items that can be placed in a sequence from most to least anxiety-arousing. The most threatening situation might be taking a test, not knowing any of the answers, and panicking. Next might be taking a test and knowing only half the answers. Less threatening is sitting in the classroom waiting for your instructor to hand you the test. Then might come walking down the hallway toward the classroom where the test will be taken. A little less threatening still might be awakening the morning of the test and thinking about it. Then might come studying for the test the night before. Finally might come scenes like reading the textbook or listening to a lecture a week before the test. Find someplace quiet where you can relax. Once relaxed, imagine the least-threatening item in your test anxiety hierarchy. As soon as you begin to feel anxious, stop imagining the item and practice relaxation again. Keep trying to imagine the stimulus until you can do so without feeling anxious. Then you're ready to try the next item on your hierarchy. Continue until you have completed your anxiety hierarchy or until you have reached an item that you cannot relax with totally. The hierarchy should take several sessions to complete. If you experience much trouble, you need to divide the items up further. On the other hand, if you sail through the entire hierarchy, it is not threatening enough. Practice should help you decide on the procedure. When finished, you should be able to take tests without experiencing extreme anxiety.