Desensitization is a process which reduces responsiveness to a certain stimulus by being repeatedly exposed to it. This was developed by Mary Cover Jones, a pioneer in behavior therapy, to help individuals who are suffering from phobia(s) and anxiety. Jones found that it is best to introduce the source of fear while the individual is having a pleasurable experience.
For instance, in her experiment on “Little Peter”, a boy who was scared of rabbits, Jones progressively presented the rabbit while Little Peter was eating candy until such a time that the furry animal can nibble on the boy’s fingers. Joseph Wolpe, Jone’s colleague and friend, operationalized this technique with his method of “systematic desensitization”. Wolpe taught relaxation strategies such as breathing techniques which are employed as the clients go through their fear hierarchies. For instance, an individual who is scared of butterflies will first think of a butterfly then look at a picture of a butterfly until he can finally touch the insect. Whenever the client begins to feel anxious, he is asked to breathe, meditate, or utilize other relaxation techniques; he then goes to the next level in the hierarchy after regaining a calm state of mind.