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One of the pioneers of behavior therapy (Psychiatry, Temple Univ.) details the assumptions and approaches for which his therapy is known--from assertiveness training to systematic desensitization (a.k.a. graduated calming) to emotion analysis as preparation for treatment. In light of all the do-it-yourself behavior therapy manuals (some spawned by Wolpe's direct disciples), it is interesting to read that Wolpe doesn't believe the therapy can be effective without a therapist: expertise is required to ferret out specific causal factors, to design the exact procedure to be followed, etc. The therapy derives, basically, from experimental psychology with animals, where it was found that in order to combat severe and habitual fear, a ""competing response"" was called for: the animal had to be made ""a little afraid"" each time until it was desensitized to the fear. Most of Wolpe's patients are able simply to imagine more and more anxiety-arousing themes, thereby overcoming their fears; but occasionally they lack the necessary visualization prowess, so they have to be sent out in the field or shown an honest-to-goodness spider. Some of the language is mildly disturbing: the therapist must show the unassertive the ""error"" of their thinking when they don't send back an overdone steak for fear of hurting the waiter's feelings; the therapist may ""allow"" a man with anxiety-based sexual problems to move his hand from here to there on the second session. And there are the usual wonder stories--women who fear penises but are able to have orgasms ""about 50 percent of the time"" after their twentieth session; men who fear they have killed while in an alcoholic blackout (can these really be simple knee-jerk therapy cases, as Wolpe suggests?). In light of the admitted need for a therapist to administer these programs, the book will be of little use to those inclined toward self-medication; and it is not sufficiently technical or detailed for a professional audience. Presumably, it's a general introduction for the lay reader interested in learning more about this particular therapy. In that sense, it will serve.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin