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Aversion therapy

Aversion therapy is a form of psychiatric or psychological treatment in which the patient is exposed to a stimulus while simultaneously being subjected to some form of discomfort. This conditioning is intended to cause the patient to associate the stimulus with unpleasant sensations in order to stop the specific behaviour.

Aversion therapies can take many forms such as placing unpleasant-tasting substances on the fingernails to discourage nail-chewing), to pairing the use of emetine (a medication that causes nausea through stomach irritation) with the sight smell and taste of alcohol or pairing behavior with electric shocks of various intensities. Of note, disulfiram (Ant-abuse) is not an aversion technique since there is no pairing of nausea with drinking, just the threat of nausea.


Aversion Therapy for Addiction

Today, the major use of aversion therapy is 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 in 2003. Their website is

Aversion therapy works on changing positive emotional associations with the sight smell and taste of alcohol or other drug. 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 and homosexuality

Aversion therapy has been used in attempts to convert homosexual individuals to heterosexuality. While more common in past decades, it is still utilized in some situations.

Since as early as 1994, the American Psychological Association has declared aversion therapy as a dangerous practice that doesn't work. As of 2006, aversion therapy, when used to treat homosexuality, is in violation of the codes of conduct and professional guidelines of the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association. The use of aversion therapy for treatment of homosexuality is illegal in some countries.

In 1966, psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman reported that while using aversion therapy to try to change gay men's sexual orientation to heterosexual was controversial, in some instances, the process "worked surprisingly well," with up to 50% of men subjected to such therapy not acting on their homosexual urges. (Seligman, p. 156)[citation needed] 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. (Seligman, p. 156)[citation needed] However, Seligman notes that the findings were later demonstrated to be flawed: most of the men treated with aversion therapy who did in fact stop homosexual behaviour were actually bisexual. Among men with an exclusive or near-exclusive homosexual orientation, aversion therapy was far less successful. (Seligman, p157)[citation needed]

A notorious case of aversion therapy occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when suspected homosexuals (both male and female) in the South African Defense Force underwent aversion therapy and chemical castration. Aversion therapy sometimes involved applying electric current, via electrodes, to men while they were shown pictures of naked men. The current would be turned off when photographs of naked women were shown. See the article in "external links" below for more information.

Injections of apomorphine were also reportedly used as part of aversion therapy for homosexuality, resulting in violent illness. At least one person has reportedly died from this treatment.[citation needed]

There is currently little published data available on "conversion" rates. However, four studies have reported "success" rates during conversion therapy of 0.4%, 0.0%, 0.5% and 0.04%. That is, conversion therapy has a failure rate in excess of 99.5% in each study. Furthermore, anecdotal data indicates a high percentage of extremely depressed and suicidal clients emerging from conversion therapy.[citation needed]

Aversion therapy and "sexually deviant" youth

Forced aversion therapy is still sometimes used on children and teenagers who violate sex laws, and especially used on individuals believed to have deviant sexual feelings. These youth have been forced to smell ammonia, describe humiliating scenarios, or engage in other uncomfortable situations, while looking at nude pictures, listening to audio tapes describing sexual situations, or describing their own fantasies. In order to measure sexual response, devices like penile plethysmographs and vaginal photoplethysmographs are sometimes used, despite the controversies surrounding these devices.

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

Popular culture

  • Both Ken Kesey and Anthony Burgess explored the concept, and its moral implications, in their respective 1962 novels One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and A Clockwork Orange.
  • An Aversion Therapy is used in A Change of Mind, an episode of the 1967 television series The Prisoner. The room where this is performed has a securely locked door with the words "Aversion therapy" written on it.
  • A radio commercial in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas refers to the practice of aversion therapy.
  • The television show Robot Chicken opening has a scientist torturing a robotic chicken in the same matter.
  • The movie Latter Days includes a scene in which a character is subjected to aversion therapy in an attempt to change his sexual orientation.
  • In the movie But I'm a Cheerleader, the character Sinead, an inmate at True Directions, more than likely a self-harmer, gives herself aversion therapy and explains to the main character, Megan, why she does so. In another scene, Megan gives herself aversion therapy for a period of time.
  • In season 1, episode 4 of The Simpsons, "There's No Disgrace Like Home" - the family are strapped to electric chairs and are given the opportunity to give electric shocks to each other. The therapy is unsuccessful as no such aversion is attained, and the family does not stop shocking each other until Dr. Monroe pulls the plug.


  • "The Aversion Project: Human rights abuses of gays and lesbians in the SADF by health workers during the apartheid era"by Mikki van Zyl, Jeanelle de Gruchy, Sheila Lapinsky, Simon Lewin, and Graeme Reid, Simply Said and Done, Cape Town, October 1999.
  • Ethical Treatment for All Youth
  • Houser, Ward Aversion Therapy. Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. Dynes, Wayne R. (ed.), Garland Publishing, 1990. p. 101
  • Seligman, Martin E.P., What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Self Improvement Knopf, 1993; ISBN 0-679-41024-4

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Aversion_therapy". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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