Aversion therapy is a form of treatment that utilizes behavioral principles to eliminate unwanted behavior. In this therapeutic method, the unwanted stimulus is repeatedly paired with discomfort. The goal of the conditioning process is to make the individual associate the stimulus with unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations.
During aversion therapy, the client may be asked to think of or engage in the behavior they enjoy while at the same time being exposed to something unpleasant such as a bad taste, a foul smell, or even mild electric shocks. Once the unpleasant feelings become associated with the behavior, the hope is that the unwanted behaviors or actions will begin to decrease in frequency or stop entirely.
Uses of Aversion Therapy
Aversion therapy can be effectively used to treat a number of problematic behaviors including the following:
- Bad habits
- Violence or anger issues
The Effectiveness of Aversion Therapy
The overall effectiveness of aversion therapy depends upon a number of factors including the methods used and whether or not the client continues to practice relapse prevention after treatment is concluded. In some instances, the client may return to previous patterns of behavior once they are out of treatment and no longer exposed to the deterrent.
Problems With Aversion Therapy
One of the major criticisms of aversion therapy is that it lacks rigorous scientific evidence demonstrating its effectiveness. Ethical issues over the use of punishments in therapy are also a major point of concern.
Practitioners have found that in some cases, aversion therapy can increase anxiety that actually interferes with the treatment process. In other instances, some patients have also experienced anger and hostility during therapy.
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American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Garrison, J. (2003). Aversion therapy. Healthline. Found online at http://www.healthline.com/galecontent/aversion-therapy