The reduction of anxiety has been a significant goal of all psychotherapeutic approaches. Although several behavioral techniques have yielded impressive evidence of clinical effectiveness in the alleviation of anxiety-based disorders, differences in theoretical accounts of the change process still prevail. The success of the best known procedure, systematic desensitization, is presumed to rest on a passive reconditioning process in which responses incompatible with anxiety are paired with increasingly threatening levels of the phobic stimulus until the competing responses eventually displace the fear. Numerous suggestions have been made that verbal controlling responses, involving coping strategies, cognitive “set,�? and self-reinforcement, may represent important elements in the Wolpeian desensitization. In order to permit a closer parallel to clinical problems, a situation (and population) was chosen that, while amenable to laboratory control, reflected an actual fear that could be of some consequence in daily life; namely, children’s fear of the dark.
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