What is Aversion Therapy?

Behavioral therapy will pair an unwanted consequence with the behavior that you don’t want to repeat. This kind of conditioning is meant to turn the person away from the bad or unwanted behavior.

What is Aversion Therapy?

During aversion or behavioral therapy, the person is asked to engage in the behavior or think about the habit while they’re being exposed to something unpleasant. As the person thinks about the habit or engages in the behavior, they are exposed to unpleasant experiences.

For example, a person who wants to quit smoking could smoke a cigarette while being exposed to a terrible taste, sense or smell. They might even be shown a picture of a cigarette while being exposed to the behavior-altering element. Over time, the person will associate the cigarette with the unpleasant memories and associations from the smell, sense or taste.

Problem Behaviors and Habits

  • Addictions to drugs or alcohol
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Gambling addiction
  • Violence or anger issues
  • Nail biting

While the therapy is often used for drug and alcohol abuse, many people learn to quit smoking using methods that can be attributed to aversion therapy. They will wear a rubber band around their wrist and snap it each time they think about smoking. This kind of deterrent is slightly painful and can be quite effective.

It’s the same method that is used to stop a child from biting her fingernails or sucking on her thumb. The parents might put a nasty-tasting deterrent on the child’s fingernails or thumb to stop him from sucking his thumb.

Effectiveness of the Therapy

Treatment has varied effectiveness, and it will mostly depend on the method that works best with that individual. The person will have to practice their own version of the therapy after leaving the therapist’s office. Once out of treatment, the behavior can return as long as they are not exposed to the deterrent any longer.

When used for drug and alcohol abuse, patients can be exposed to chemical stimuli that will make the alcohol taste disgusting as well as have other side effects like nausea and vomiting, which makes the person unwilling to ingest the alcohol.

Problems with Therapy

Along with the high rate of a person lapsing into the bad behaviors, there are some ethical concerns with some of these therapies. While substituting bad smells and tastes are not dangerous, some painful therapies can be a danger. They also create a sense of anger and hostile thoughts about the therapy, which isn’t always a recipe for success in the individual after leaving treatment.

While some therapies can involve smell and taste deterrents, much of this type of therapy involves small, painful shocks to alter behavior. This has been used for those with violent tendencies and has had mixed results and criticism from those outside the psychological community. It’s been used to treat mental illnesses for many years.

Aversion therapy has been deemed dangerous in some circumstances where the patient is receiving shock therapy unless there’s a professional to oversee its application. In many cases, the person can experience an aversion to the bad behavior that makes it helpful.

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