What is Aversion Therapy?
Aversion therapy is a treatment regime used in the fields of psychiatry, psychology and mental health treatment to treat patients suffering from abnormal or potentially harmful addictions or behavioral patterns. Aversion therapy can be administered by parents. One example would be the application of a bad tasting substance to fingernails to discourage nail biting. It is also utilized by medical professionals in a number of specialty fields. Aversion therapy is, for example, widely used today in order to discourage alcoholics or potential alcoholics from drinking alcoholic beverages. The precursor to aversion therapy was the experiments conducted by Pavlov on dogs at the beginning of the 19th century. In those tests, Dr. Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate when hearing a bell, which they associated with the distribution of food. While not a form of aversion therapy, Pavlov’s experiments showed that reactions could be programed and reprogrammed by a system of rewards and punishments.
When was Aversion Therapy First Used?
Aversion therapy was first introduced in the beginning of the 1930′s when aversion therapy began to be used in the United States in an attempt to cure alcoholics. However, by the 1950s it was being widely used in an attempt to “cure” homosexuals and force them to become heterosexuals. Aversion Therapy for the “treatment” of homosexual individuals was first proposed by the American psychoanalyst Dr. Sando Rado. He proposed that heterosexuality was the biological norm. Homosexuality, according to Dr. Rado, was a learned behavioral pattern that the “sufferer” developed because of problems during childhood that contributed to a negative view of heterosexuality. It is worthwhile to note that the accepted founder of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, expressed the view that the possibility of changing an individual’s sexual preferences through aversion therapy was slim.
While not the only means used to “treat” homosexuality, aversion therapy can be said to have been the most inhumane and disturbing type of treatment. Originally, aversion therapy for homosexual behavior was drug-based. Patients would be injected intramuscularly with a chemical substance, more often than not apomorphine, that produced nausea and vomiting. The drug was injected at the same time as patients were forced to view provocative and sexually arousing images with the aim being that patients would associate the effects of the drug with the images and their homosexuality. However, due to the difficulties of synchronizing image reaction to drug reaction and the fact that patients also developed an immunity to the drugs used, this type of aversion therapy was gradually replaced by electric shock aversion therapy.
Other forms of aversion therapy were used to treat other perceived sexual deviations such as fetishes and cross dressing. Cross dressers, for example, would be dressed in “inappropriate” clothing and asked to stand barefoot on a wire mesh which would them deliver an electric shock. They would then be asked to gradually remove pieces of their clothing so that, the less “inappropriate” clothing they wore, the less frequent and severe the electric shock received. Only when they were completely naked would the electric shocks cease.
Aversion therapy of this sort would be administered two to three times a day over a two week period. Many experts claimed that by intensifying treatment regimes and inducing fatigue in the patients, there would be an increase in the success rates of the treatments.
Is Aversion Therapy Still Used Today?
Today, aversion therapy is still a recognized method of treatment for sex offenders and alcohol and drug abusers in some states in the United States and in other countries. Today’s aversion therapy is no longer based on physical punishment regimes but rather on physiological programming to change behavioral patterns. However, in the case of sex offenders, images of a sexually stimulating nature are still used to invoke reactions in the subjects.