Systematic desensitization is a psycho-therapeutic treatment which deals with treating of phobias and other conditions in need of tuning down anxiety.
It is a behavioural treatment, it allows for the mind to adjust to and accept the object or situation it may fear. The patient is first and foremost introduced to relaxation techniques:
learning how to relax the mind and the muscles.
In that way, feelings of relaxation have been associated with the object the mind now used to fear. It is by means of these relaxation techniques a person is to overcome one's phobias and such.
How systematic desensitization works is, taking into account that the mind is conditioned with feeling anxiety around certain objects places or beings, such as spiders. This theory was set by the famous Russian Ivan Pavlov.
Ivan Pavlov illustrated this via the example of a dog's response to the presence of food, namely salivation. Namely, when a dog is introduced to food, it immediately begins salivating. Pavlov then introduced an additional element, the ringing of a bell whenever he served the dog food. The dog then associated the ringing of the bell with eating, and from then on started salivating whenever he heard its ringing – food or no food present.
In this way, the dog has then linked the conditioned stimulus (the ringing of the bell), to the unconditioned stimulus (the presence of food).
Conclusively, entire phobias, such as the association of red roses with the death of a loved one, may be treated similarly.
So if a persona has developed a phobia against, say, red roses, the treatment steps of such may be illustrated:
the patient is taught a number of relaxation techniques, that a general sense of calm may prevail of the mind;
the patient is asked to think of the feared presence, in this case red roses, which in turn will generate the slightest of anxieties, due to the fact that the person is relaxed while merely thinking of it;
next, the person will be presented a funny drawing which includes a red rose. If the person panics, he or she will be asked to close his eyes and keep them closed until he or she is fully calm, and then open them again only to be presented with the same image. This step is to be repeated until successful;
in this step, the patient is to be introduced to another picture of a rose, in this case depicting a pleasant instead of a funny situation, like say, a picture of a boy giving a rose to a girl as a symbol of his love. In this way, the patient is helped to re-associate the symbol with another feeling.
next, the person is to slightly approach a real rose in a vase, albeit keeping his or her distance at closest range. This is to be done with great encouragement and insurance that no danger could possibly spring from doing so;
the patient is now asked to further approach the real rose and JUST LOOK at it from a slightly shorter distance;
the person is asked to then approach the rose and touch the vase;
the patient will now be asked to touch the rose;
the patient will now be asked to hold the red rose in his or her hand;
lastly, if the treatment was a success, the patient will now be able to hold an entire bouquet of red roses with experiencing zero anxiety whatsoever.