Aversion therapy a technique that is based on conditioning and behavioral psychology. It is unlike cognitive therapy and other forms of talking therapy, in that aversion therapy tends to focus on behaviors rather than cognitions and is goal-oriented with the focus on eliminating certain habits. The most common example of behavioral therapy is that of Pavlov’s dog. Many people remember learning in school about how Pavlov’s dog was conditioned to anticipate feeding time with the ringing of a bell.
Behavioral therapy is similar to the concept used to train Pavlov’s dog, but it involves negative reinforcement. Whereas Pavlov used food to encourage the dog to interpret the sound of the bell to indicate it was dinner time, the goal of aversion therapy is to create an association in someone’s mind between an unwanted desire or activity and something unpleasant. As the patient continues to associate engaging in a bad habit with an unfavorable result, he or she may be conditioned to cease from it.
How Aversion Therapy Works
Aversion therapy begins with someone imagining engaging in the behavior they want to stop or actually doing it and having unpleasant stimuli follow it. This is done over and over again until the person doesn’t feel any inclination to pursue it anymore. A simple example of this is the application of a bitter-tasting material on the nails to keep someone from biting
One drawback of this approach is that the person is applying the substance themselves. They are aware that they can stop providing the negative stimuli whenever they want to. In many cases, the therapy is more effective when it is delivered by the therapist. People who have unwanted desires and habits may seek therapy information on how to cure it through working with a licensed professional.
Some people seek to cure themselves of alcohol abuse by taking medications that can produce harsh side effects within 10 minutes of taking an alcoholic drink. Some people find that this is an effective way of discouraging them from drinking alcohol. In some cases, aversion therapy may involve people with unwanted sexual desires receiving electric shocks from a therapist every time they experience that feeling in a clinical setting, such as when they are shown an explicit photograph.
Controversy Surrounding Aversion Therapy
The administration of electric shocks to try to cure people of unwanted sexual desires and other proclivities is highly controversial and has been considered inhumane by critics. However, there are less severe forms of behavioral and aversion therapy that are used on a regular basis. There is also a belief that as long as someone is an adult and is consenting to aversion therapy, there may not be enough a problem with engaging in practices such as electrical shocks or medicines designed make someone sick.
If physical stimuli such as shocks and unpleasant tastes and smells may seem a bit extreme to some patients, there is a more gentle form of aversion therapy called covert sensitization. Instead of applying physical stimuli, the patient is asked to visualize and imagine the negative consequences of their behavior and the low feeling of self-worth that may result if they give into their addiction. This avoids some of the objections concerning traditional forms of aversion therapy and allows the patients to internalize for themselves the results of continuing the unwanted behavior.