Flooding Psychology (A complete review)

This article gives a brief idea of “Flooding Psychology”. It will describe Behavior Therapy and how does flooding work.

Then, it will highlight flooding as behavioral therapy for treating phobias.


Flooding is a form of behavior therapy and is sometimes referred to as in vivo exposure therapy and is based on the principles of respondent conditioning.

It is a psychotherapeutic technique that is used to treat anxiety disorders including phobias, panic attacks, and PTSD.


Behavior therapy refers to the therapeutic measures with which an individual’s behavior patterns are targeted to change or modify.

According to behavior therapy, psychological disorders are the result of maladaptive learning. Behavioral therapies are based on the theories of classical and operant conditioning.

It is focused on the notion that all behavior is learned which is also known as conditioning and faulty learning is the main cause of abnormal behavior and behavior modification helps in correcting or modifying the faulty behavior. 

Classical Conditioning:

Pavlov has given classical conditioning and had used a Dog theory to bring into notice.

It suggests that a response is learned and repeated through immediate association.

The therapies based on classical conditioning focuses on breaking the association between the stimulus and undesired response.

This type of therapy was originally known as behavior modification but nowadays it is known as applied behavior analysis.

The following are examples of theories based on Classical Conditioning:

  • Aversion Therapy:

Aversion therapy includes the aversive stimulus whenever there is unwanted behavior, such as electric shock with every unwanted behavior of consuming alcohol or talking about it.

The patient then learns to associate the undesirable behavior with the electric shock which leads to the link between the undesirable behavior and the reflex response to an electric shock.

In the case of alcohol, the person who is an alcoholic is required to be given alcohol while he is under the effect of a nausea-inducing drug.

Then taking alcohol will result in vomiting which ultimately leads to feelings of nausea even with the smell of alcohol and eventually, he wouldn’t even want to have a drink.

  • Flooding:

Flooding which is also known as implosion therapy works by exposing the patient directly to his fears.

If the person has fear of crowd then he is taken to a crowded place. Flooding refers to exposing the patient to the phobic object or situation for some time period in a controlled environment so that he automatically get used to the situation and get over his/her fears.

Our fears re time-limited response, first it creates anxiety, panics but with time it sets in and the anxiety curve starts to go down.

If the fears are not invited or dealt with then it definitely can be controlled and the person would do anything to avoid such a situation but if the fear is in front of the person, he would have no other choice than facing it, confronting it and then the panic subsides.

With time the person learns that now there is no fear left to harm, it is extinguished.

Exposure of the fear for a longer period of time gives strength to fight it, create a new association between the feared object and positivity.

  • Systematic Desensitization:

Systematic Desensitization is also a type of behavioral therapy and it’s a bit like flooding only, the difference here is that in flooding there is Vivo exposure of the fearful stimuli whereas in systematic desensitization he is exposed to the fear but through the modes of images or in vitro exposure.

It is based on the hierarchical procedure and it takes some amount of time to make the person face the fear. 

In this process, first, the relaxation process is used with breathing exercises and relaxing the muscles or doing meditation.

Then the patient is exposed to the tiniest bit of his fear, say a picture of cockroach, if he is afraid of cockroaches.

Then the patient works on their hierarchy and practice relaxation as they leave the stage of it.

Then the patient moves to the next stage in the hierarchy, if the patient doesn’t feel good and is upset then he can return to an earlier stage and regain the relaxed state.  

Operant Conditioning:

Operant Conditioning is a method that consists of reinforcements and punishment for behavior.

Some examples of therapies which include principles of operant conditioning are:

  • Token Economy:

Token economy refers to the technique in which a desirable behavior by the client earns him a reinforcement in the form of tokens which is also known as secondary reinforcers and it later can be changed for rewards.

It is a form of a technique used in contingent management to modify the behaviors of the children, and it can be in the form of fake money, stars, etc. and the rewards can be classified as watching T.V for an extra half an hour, favorite snack, etc. 

For example, a child gets a gold star for completing his homework every day and if he continues doing it for say 4 weeks then he can get a reward from those golden stars.

If any day he fails doing so, he would get a black star and it will eat up 4 golden stars., etc.


As we have learned so far is that flooding is a technique of Classical Conditioning, which modifies an individual’s behavior by letting them face their fear altogether, it can be either positive or negative.

How is Flooding Used in the Treatment of Various Conditions?

Flooding is generally used to treat conditions like anxiety disorders and phobias and this type of therapy can be used with the actual places of fear (in vivo experience) or through the use of actual images.

With the treatment of flooding, the individual finds himself less triggered by the fearful situation then he was before.

The sense of capabilities in handing fears are increased and anxiety seems to be diminished with time and on their own.

Soon the person realizes that there was nothing very serious to be afraid of.

Well, like most other therapy techniques, flooding also has its limitations, not everybody can be benefitted by it as not everybody can handle flooding technique.

It depends on the person’s anxiety and the severity of their condition.


As we have learned about what technique flooding focuses on, it’s the classical conditioning and biological theory, that our actions and behavior are dependent on the fight or flight response.

When there is a possible threat then our body goes into the “alarm stage”. Our heart rate increases, blood pressure increases, etc. 

The body can stay in this condition of the “alarm stage” for quite some time, then the heart rate slows back down, breathing becomes regular again.

This is a therapy known as exposure therapy, a way of fighting with the phobias. It involves presenting the object of fear in front of the sufferer, it is a way of forcing them to confront it.

The phobia sufferer finds that they are no longer panicking and their anxiety level has been dropped down even after the exposure to their fear.

They try to be in a relaxed state and learn how to continue living with the feared object with neutral emotions.

Flooding has two components:

  • Unavoidable Exposure:

In this, the sufferer has to face the fear no matter what and it is an avoidable way.

Well, normally people try to escape from the fear and hide from it so that they don’t have to face what comes after fear, i.e. the body’s alarm stage.

If the patient continues to escape from the object they won’t be able to stop fearing it.

In Stampfl’s flooding therapy, the patients learn about their fear, from their tape-recorded descriptions of their fears.

Other types of flooding involve being in front of the feared object which is also known as imaginal flooding.

  • Extinction:

Extinction involves learning to associate the fear one has with something neutral. It is when the body’s “alarm phase” comes to an end after the anxiety curve comes down back, one feels emotionally drained but not afraid anymore.

This is called “extinction”.


This blog gave a brief idea of “Flooding Psychology”. It has described Behavior Therapy and how does flooding work.

Then, it has also highlighted flooding as behavioral therapy for treating phobias.

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