Skip to main content Accessibility help

Specific and Non-specific Factors in Behaviour Therapy

  • M. G. Gelder (a1), J. H. J. Bancroft (a1), D. H. Gath (a1), D. W. Johnston (a1), A. M. Mathews (a1) and P. M. Shaw (a1)...

Previous investigations have suggested that desensitization is the treatment of choice for simple phobic disorders, but is less effective with agoraphobia, particularly when the phobias are accompanied by much generalized anxiety (Gelder and Marks, 1966). Even the milder agoraphobias usually respond incompletely despite prolonged treatment. An alternative treatment that offers more rapid or effective results, particularly with agoraphobia, would therefore be of value. The technique of flooding or implosion has recently been the subject of a number of studies, and some, but not all, have shown evidence of considerable therapeutic power. The method is also of some theoretical interest since it breaks the rules which are thought to be important in desensitization. Thus, according to early proponents (Stampfl and Levis, 1967) success depends on exposing patients to fantasy material of an extremely intense and anxiety-provoking nature, so that extinction to cues associated with the original traumatic situation may take place. From this theoretical viewpoint desensitization can be only partially successful, since these traumatic origins are neither sought for nor presented to the patient. Even if the necessity of dealing with original anxiety-provoking cues is not accepted, the use of material which evokes maximal anxiety for prolonged periods is contrary to the counter-conditioning theory of desensitization (Wolpe, 1958). Indeed, this theory predicts that flooding would rarely be successful and might make the phobia worse because uncontrolled increases in anxiety may cause reconditioning.

Hide All
Barrett, G. L. (1969). ‘Systematic desensitization versus implosive therapy.’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 74, 587–92.
Bernstein, D. A., and Allen, G. J. (1969). ‘Fear Survey Schedule (II): normative data and factor analyses based upon a large college sample.’ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 7, 403–7.
Borkovec, T. D. (1972). ‘Effects of expectancy on the outcome of systematic desensitization and implosive treatments for analogue anxiety.’ Behaviour Therapy, 3, 2940.
Braun, P. R., and Reynolds, D. J. (1969). ‘A factor analysis of a 100-item fear survey inventory.’ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 7, 399402.
Calef, R. A., and MacLean, G. D. (1970). ‘A comparison of reciprocal inhibition and reactive inhibition therapies in the treatment of speech anxiety.’ Behaviour Therapy, 1, 51–8.
Davison, G. C. (1968). ‘Systematic desensitization as a counterconditioning process.’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 73, 91–9.
De Moor, W. (1970). ‘Systematic desensitization versus prolonged high intensity stimulation (flooding).’ Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 1, 4552.
Gelder, M. G., and Marks, I. M. (1966). ‘Severe agoraphobia: a controlled prospective trial of behaviour therapy.’ British Journal of Psychiatry, 112, 309–19.
Gelder, M. G., Marks, I. M., Wolff, H. H. (1967). ‘Desensitization and psychotherapy in the treatment of phobic states: a controlled inquiry.’ British Journal of Psychiatry, 113, 5373.
Hoehn-Saric, R., Frank, J. D., Imber, S. D., Nash, E. H., Stone, A. R., and Battle, G. G. (1964). ‘Systematic preparation of patients for psychotherapy: I. Effects on therapy behaviour and outcome.’ Journal of Psychiatric Research, 2, 267–81.
Hussain, M. Z. (1971). ‘Desensitization and flooding (implosion) in treatment of phobias.’ American Journal of Psychiatry, 127, 1509–14.
Imber, S. D., Pande, S. K., Frank, J. D., Hoehn–Sario, R., Stone, A. R., and Wargo, D. G. (1970). ‘Time-focused role induction.’ Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 150, 2736.
Lader, M. H., and Wing, L. (1966). Physiological Measures, Sedative MDrugs and Morbid Anxiety. Maudsley Monograph No. 14. London: Oxford University Press.
Leitenberg, H., Aoras, W. S., Barlow, D. H., and Oliveau, D. C. (1969). ‘Contribution of selective positive reinforcement and therapeutic instructions to systematic desensitization therapy.’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 74, 113–18.
Lykken, D. T., Rose, R. J., Luther, B., and Maley, M. (1966). ‘Correcting psychophysiological measures for individual differences in range.’ Psychological Bulletin, 66, 481–4.
Marks, I. M. (1967). ‘Components and correlates of psychiatric questionnaires.’ British Journal of Medical Psychology, 40, 261–72.
Marks, I. M. (1969). Fears and Phobias. London: W. Heinemann.
Marks, I. M., Boulogouris, J., and Marset, P. (1971). ‘Flooding versus desensitization in the treatment of phobic patients: a crossover study.’ British Journal of Psychiatry, 119, 353–75.
McGlynn, F. D. (1971). ‘Experimental desensitization following three types of instructions.’ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 9, 367–9.
McNair, D. M., and Lorr, M. (1964). ‘An analysis of mood in neurotics.’ Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69, 620–7.
Mealiea, W. L., and Nawas, M. M. (1971). ‘The comparative effectiveness of systematic desensitization and implosive therapy in the treatment of snake phobia.’ Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2, 8594.
Prochaska, J. O. (1971). ‘Symptom and dynamic cues in the implosive treatment of test anxiety.’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 77, 133–42.
Rogers, C. R., and Dymond, R. F. (1954). Psychotherapy and Personality Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rubin, S. E., Lawliss, G. F., Tasto, D. L., and Namenek, T. (1969). ‘Factor analysis of the 122 item fear survey schedule.’ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 7, 381–6.
Sherman, A. R. (1972). ‘Real-life exposure as a primary therapeutic factor in the desensitization treatment of fear.’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 79, 1928.
Stampfl, T. G., and Levis, D. J. (1967). ‘Essentials of implosive therapy: a learning-theory-based psycho-dynamic behavioural therapy.’ Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 72, 496503.
Truax, C. B., and Carkhuff, R. R. (1967). Toward Effective Counselling and Psychotherapy. Chicago: Aldine.
Warr, P. B., and Haycock, V. (1970). ‘Scales for a British personality differential.’ British Journal of Social and Cluneal Psychology, 9, 328–37.
Watson, J. P., Gaind, R., and Marks, I. M. (1971). ‘Prolonged exposure: a rapid treatment for phobias.’ British Medical Journal, i, 1315.
Wilkins, W. (1971). ‘Desensitization: social and cognitive factors underlying the effectiveness of Wolpe's procedure.’ Psychological Bulletin, 76, 311–17.
Willis, R. W., and Edwards, J. A. (1969). ‘A study of the comparative effectiveness of systematic desensitization and implosive therapy.’ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 7, 387–95.
Winer, B. J. (1962). Statistical Principles in Experimental Design. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Wolpe, J. (1958). Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Wolpe, J. and Lang, P. J. (1964). ‘A fear survey schedule for use in behaviour therapy.’ Behaviour Research and Therapy, 2, 2730.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

Specific and Non-specific Factors in Behaviour Therapy

  • M. G. Gelder (a1), J. H. J. Bancroft (a1), D. H. Gath (a1), D. W. Johnston (a1), A. M. Mathews (a1) and P. M. Shaw (a1)...
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *