What does it mean to be desensitized?
Desensitization is an emotional response (or lack of response) due to repeated exposure of a stimulus. Desensitization therapy is a form of treatment that takes the idea of desensitization and uses it systematically to treat things like specific phobias, anxieties, and even PTSD. This is an evidenced-based treatment approach that uses both gradual exposure to a trigger coupled with relaxation techniques to help reduce fear responses. However, in many cases, desensitization occurs in contexts outside of therapy. This occurs when people are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, like violence and death. This becomes problematic as people struggle to learn coping skills and to process trauma appropriately.
How does desensitization affect people?
When administered safely and in a controlled environment, desensitization can be beneficial to people’s mental health. This form of treatment can help people tackle their fears and break maladaptive cycles of coping. However, when people become desensitized to trauma due to repeated exposure to things like violence, desensitization can have detrimental effects on their mental health. Death, for example, is a common trauma that people become desensitized to. Becoming desensitized to death can cause people to become less sensitive and empathetic to the grief of others. Because people who become desensitized are not processing their emotions, desensitization can often also cause people to act out their emotions in aggressive ways.
How can people cope with desensitization?
One of the most important things to understand when coping with desensitization is to realize that we have become desensitized. When we experience a trauma repeatedly, it can become easy to become desensitized and not realize that we are not coping with the trauma. Understanding how we are (or are not) coping can be incredibly helpful when healing from trauma. Being open with your therapist is equally as important. Your therapist can help you explore your trauma in a safe and controlled environment so you can begin to process your trauma.
This page is part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.
While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.