Aversion therapy
Aversion therapy is a form of psychological treatment in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus
Stimulus (psychology)
In psychology, stimuli are energy patterns which are registered by the senses. In behaviorism and related stimulus–response theories, stimuli constitute the basis for behavior, whereas in perceptual psychology they constitute the basis for perception.In the second half of the 19th century, the...

 while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort. This conditioning
Classical conditioning
Classical conditioning is a form of conditioning that was first demonstrated by Ivan Pavlov...

 is intended to cause the patient to associate the stimulus
Stimulus (physiology)
In physiology, a stimulus is a detectable change in the internal or external environment. The ability of an organism or organ to respond to external stimuli is called sensitivity....

 with unpleasant sensations in order to stop the specific behavior.

Aversion therapies can take many forms, for example: placing unpleasant-tasting substances on the fingernails to discourage nail-chewing; pairing the use of an emetic with the experience of alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

; or pairing behavior with electric shock
Electric shock
Electric Shock of a body with any source of electricity that causes a sufficient current through the skin, muscles or hair. Typically, the expression is used to denote an unwanted exposure to electricity, hence the effects are considered undesirable....

s of various intensities.

In addictions

The major use of aversion therapy is currently for the treatment of addiction to alcohol and other drugs. This form of treatment has been in continuous operation since 1932. The treatment is discussed in the Principles of Addiction Medicine, Chapter 8, published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine
American Society of Addiction Medicine
The American Society of Addiction Medicine is a physician society with a focus on addiction and its treatment.- History :ASAM has its roots in research and clinical traditions that pre-date its founding in the early 1950s, when Ruth Fox, M.D. began regular meetings with other physicians interested...

 in 2003.

Aversion therapy works on changing positive emotional associations with the sight, smell and taste of alcohol or other drugs. Follow up studies done at 6 and 12 months on populations matched on 17 baseline variables shows that aversion therapy resulted in significantly better abstinence rates. There was no increase in leaving the hospital against medical advice in patients seeking aversion therapy compared to patients in non-aversion programs.

Aversion therapy is also used in the self-help community to treat minor behavioral issues with the aid of an elastic band, the user or patient would snap the elastic band on his/her wrist while an undesirable thought/behavior presents itself.

The results of Antabuse combined with behavioral marital therapy for treating alcoholism has growing research support.

Traditional aversion therapy, which employed either chemical aversion (Watson and Reyner, 1920) or electrical aversion (Maguire and Vallance, 1964) has now, since Cautela, been replaced by aversion in the imagination, a technique which is known as covert sensitization (Cautela, 1967).

Covert sensitization is a powerful and effective form of treatment and it has been used successfully in the treatment of alcoholism, compulsive gambling and juvenile delinquency. This treatment approach can also be used in the treatment of cigarette smokers, and there are favorable results here especially when being compared to other techniques.

Kraft & Kraft (2005) assessed the value of covert sensitization in six case studies—a fingernail biter, a cannabis smoker, an obese lady, a cigarette smoker, an individual with a chocolate addiction and an alcoholic. The study showed that covert sensitization was a rapid and cost-effective form of treatment. All the individuals in the study eliminated their maladaptive behavior pattern, and this was maintained at the follow-up.

In homosexuality

Since 1994, the American Psychological Association
American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association is the largest scientific and professional organization of psychologists in the United States. It is the world's largest association of psychologists with around 154,000 members including scientists, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. The APA...

 (APA) has declared that aversion therapy is a dangerous practice that does not work. Since 2006, the use of aversion therapy to treat homosexuality has been in violation of the codes of conduct and professional guidelines of the APA and American Psychiatric Association
American Psychiatric Association
The American Psychiatric Association is the main professional organization of psychiatrists and trainee psychiatrists in the United States, and the most influential worldwide. Its some 38,000 members are mainly American but some are international...

. The use of aversion therapy to treat homosexuality is illegal in some countries. The standard in psychotherapy in America
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

 and Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 is currently gay affirmative psychotherapy
Gay affirmative psychotherapy
Gay affirmative psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy for gay and lesbian clients which encourages them to accept their sexual orientation, and does not attempt to change them to heterosexual, or to eliminate or diminish same-sex desires and behaviors. The American Psychological Association ...

. Guidelines for gay affirmative psychotherapy can be found at APA.

Psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman reported that using aversion therapy to try to change homosexual men's sexual orientation to heterosexual was controversial. In some instances, notably a series of 1966 experiments, the process was initially judged to have worked surprisingly well, with up to 50% of men subjected to such therapy not acting on their homosexual urges. These results produced what Seligman described as "a great burst of enthusiasm about changing homosexuality [that] swept over the therapeutic community" after the results were reported in 1966. However, Seligman notes that the findings were later shown to be flawed: most of the men treated with aversion therapy who stopped homosexual behavior were actually bisexual; among men with an exclusive or near-exclusive homosexual orientation, aversion therapy was far less successful.

Dr. Robert Card conducted shock aversion therapy and published papers advocating therapy to eliminate homosexuality from a patient's personality, including "The Empirical Characteristics and Clinical Utility of the Monarch Adolescent Audio Visual PPG Stimulus Materials" and "What is 'Deviant?' An Examination of Three Distinct Groups' Penile Plethysmograph Responses." In one treatment method, gay volunteers had electrodes attached to their genitals and were then shown homosexual pornography. As the pornography played, the patients were injected with emetic drugs and administered electric shocks. The shocks and emetics would then cease and the homosexual imagery would be replaced by heterosexual pornography, during which time the patient would not be abused.

Aversion therapy took place at a number of research universities during the 1970s. Mental illness and suicide have been attributed to be caused by shock aversion therapy by those who have undergone it and their family members.

Aversion therapy and "sexually deviant" youth

Aversion therapy is still sometimes forced on children and teenagers who violate sex laws, and especially on individuals believed to have deviant sexual feelings. These youths have been forced to smell ammonia, describe humiliating scenarios, or engage in other uncomfortable acts, while looking at nude pictures, listening to audio tapes describing sexual situations, or describing their own fantasies. In order to measure sexual response, devices such as penile plethysmograph
Penile plethysmograph
Penile plethysmography , or "phallometry", refers to measurement of bloodflow to the male genital. The most commonly reported methods of conducting penile plethysmography involve the measurement of the circumference of the penis with a mercury-in-rubber strain gauge, or the volume of the penis with...

s and vaginal photoplethysmograph
Vaginal photoplethysmograph
The Vaginal photoplethysmograph is a type of plethysmograph. It consists of a clear acrylic, rod-shaped device that contains a light source, and a light detector. The light source illuminates the capillary bed of the vaginal wall and the blood circulating within it...

s are sometimes used, despite the controversies surrounding them.

In 1992, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union challenged the Phoenix Memorial Hospital for its use of these methods on children as young as 10. They were defended by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers
The Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers is a non-profit organization founded to foster research, facilitate information exchange, further professional education and provide for the advancement of professional standards and practices in the field of sex offender evaluation and treatment...

. Since then, policies have usually discouraged the use of forced aversion therapy on children under 14.

See also

  • Conversion therapy
  • Behavior modification
    Behavior modification
    Behavior modification is the use of empirically demonstrated behavior change techniques to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviors, such as altering an individual's behaviors and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement of adaptive behavior and/or the reduction of...

  • Ludovico technique
    Ludovico technique
    The Ludovico technique is a fictional aversion therapy from the novel A Clockwork Orange administered by Dr. Brodsky with the approval of the UK Minister of the Interior. It involved forcing a patient to watch, through the use of specula to hold the eyes open, violent images for long periods of...

  • Shock collar
    Shock collar
    The term shock collar is a term used in order to describe a family of training collars that deliver shocks of varying intensity and duration to the neck of a dog via a radio controlled electronic device...

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