Emotive Staging, what are they?

Robert Johnston
Emotive Staging, what are they?

Since we are little, all or almost all of us suffer from some type of phobia. Some are afraid of the dark, others of insects, enclosed spaces, etc. If we live in a big city and have a phobia of snakes, we may not have to worry about it. But if our son has a phobia of the dark and does not want to sleep alone, perhaps it is time to put emotional role-plays into practice.

Remember that a specific phobia, according to the DSM-V, is a "persistent, excessive or irrational fear of the presence or anticipation of specific objects or situations." It is a fear that is highly investigated by scientific psychological literature since, in principle, it is something irrational. Agoraphobia or phobia of clowns are also the best known. Why do they arise? How do they arise? And above all, how can we cope? 


  • Emotional staging
  • Counterconditioning
  • How do we know if it works and how long it lasts?
  • Working at home with the little ones emotional staging
    • Bibliography

Emotional staging

One of the techniques used to reduce and / or eliminate the phobia is emotional staging. It is applied mainly in children. It is a technique that is based on a gradual exposure to the feared situation through play activities.

"Fear arises from a weakness of the mind and, therefore, does not belong to the use of reason." -Saruch Spinoza-

The therapist asks the child to choose a movie or cartoon hero that he likes and arouses his admiration. The therapist explains to the child how the game will unfold and who will represent each character in the story. In this way, it establishes and awakens courageous behaviors in him..

Before the application of the emotional staging technique, a hierarchical program must be constructed combining physical variables. Among which we can find, exposure time or intensity of light. This hierarchy serves to establish the situations that will be faced, from the least to the most feared.

As Méndez Carrillo's team (2003) indicates, "a reinforcement system is programmed, consisting of the administration of social reinforcement (for example, encouraging phrases, smiles, winks) and material reinforcement when the child exceeds the the hierarchy". In relation to the reinforcement system, the token economy is usually used. It consists of prizes that the child can get and are related to the phobia treated.

When the child is in full play, the therapist asks him to take the first step in the hierarchy as if it were an episode in the plot. What happens if the child deals with it correctly? It is reinforced materially and socially. But if he refuses to carry out the action proposed to him, the exhibition is interrupted before the time expires or before he shows fear. The child is then encouraged to repeat the action.


Behind this technique is a learning process known as counterconditioning. What does it consist of? If an opposite response is triggered by a stimulus that elicits a fear response, the stimulus will lose strength and will no longer elicit fear. That is, if the fear of the dark is associated with play, fun or laughter; darkness will stop causing this fear and will have a neutral or positive value.

How do we know if it works and how long it lasts?

According to Méndez Carrillo (2003), "an item is considered passed when the child performs the behavior a couple of successive trials without the need for help and without expressing fear". Little by little, the therapist introduces new situations until the hierarchy is completed.

The number of sessions of the program is variable and depends on the severity of the phobia. The duration of each session can be between 30 and 45 minutes with a frequency of 2 to 3 weekly sessions. Parents are also instructed to encourage appropriate behaviors at home through reinforcement..

Once the program is over, some sessions are usually organized to consolidate the progress made. The situations that have been the most difficult for the child to overcome are repeated to assess how he is doing. Several sessions are also planned to check that the achievements are maintained over time. Lastly, issues are resolved should any arise.

Working at home with the little ones emotional staging

Usually it begins with instructions to parents to read to the child a story in which the main character has the same fear as him. However, this character is gradually exposing himself to the feared situations. At the same time, the child also performs the same behaviors in the form of play.

"Do not judge every day by the harvest you harvest, but by the seeds you plant." -Robert Louis Stevenson-

In this case, both the hero and the parents represent role models. In this way, a coping modeling is produced in which the feared situations are overcome little by little. The advantage of using a fictional character is that it can match the child's age and characteristics. As the child progresses, they will be given tokens that they will accumulate to get motivating prizes.

Work at home is essential. It is where the child will spend most of the time and where fear of the dark behavior is likely to manifest. For this reason, the work and rapport between the therapist and the parents will be a key aspect of the process..


Méndez, X., Orgilés, M. and Espada, J. (2004). Emotional Staging for Dark Phobia: A Controlled Essay. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 4, (3), 505-520.

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