Aversion Therapy: An Overview of Its Definition, Techniques, and Controversies

Aversion therapy is a psychological treatment technique that aims to suppress undesirable behaviors or habits by associating them with unpleasant or sometimes painful stimuli. It is based on the principle of classical conditioning, which asserts that a conditioned response can be elicited by pairing a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus.

The Definition of Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy is a type of behavior therapy that aims to change a patient’s unwanted or harmful behavior by using an aversive stimulus as a punishment. The goal of this technique is to condition a patient’s mind to avoid the behavior that causes harm or suffering by associating it with the unpleasant stimulus.

The unpleasant stimulus can be anything from a bad smell, a loud noise, an electric shock, or a nausea-inducing drug. The technique is used to treat a variety of conditions such as addiction, anxiety, and sexual disorders, among others.

The Techniques Used in Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy can be administered in various ways, depending on the condition being treated and the patient’s specific situation. Some of the most common techniques used include:

Chemical Aversion Therapy

This involves administering a drug that induces nausea, vomiting, or other unpleasant symptoms when a patient engages in the undesired behavior. For instance, alcoholics may be given a drug called disulfiram, which causes nausea and vomiting when combined with alcohol. This creates an aversion to drinking and discourages future alcohol use.

Electric Shock Aversion Therapy

In this technique, a mild electric shock is administered to a patient who engages in an undesirable behavior. For example, a smoker may be given an electric shock when they try to smoke a cigarette. The unpleasant sensation of the shock is intended to create an aversion to smoking.

Visual Aversion Therapy

This type of aversion therapy involves showing a patient images or videos that are unpleasant or disturbing when they engage in the problematic behavior. For instance, a person with a nail-biting habit may be shown pictures of infected fingers or nail-biting complications to discourage them from continuing the habit.

The Controversies Surrounding Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy has been a subject of controversy and criticism for several reasons. One of the main concerns is the ethical implications of administering aversive stimuli to patients. Some experts argue that the technique can be traumatic and may cause long-lasting psychological harm to patients.

Others argue that the effectiveness of aversion therapy is limited, as patients may develop tolerance to the aversive stimulus or find alternative ways to engage in the behavior without the aversive consequence.

Moreover, aversion therapy has been criticized for its potential to perpetuate negative stereotypes about certain behaviors or groups of people. For instance, the use of aversion therapy to discourage homosexuality has been deemed unethical and discriminatory by many experts.


Aversion therapy is a psychological technique that has been used to treat a variety of disorders by creating an aversion to undesirable behaviors or habits. While it can be effective in some cases, it has also received criticism for its ethical implications and limitations in long-term effectiveness. As with any psychological treatment, it is essential to consider the potential risks and benefits before using aversion therapy as a treatment option.


What is Aversion Therapy?

Aversion therapy is a form of psychological treatment that utilizes the principles of conditioning to change or eliminate unwanted behaviour. This technique entails pairing a behaviour with an unpleasant stimulus, such as an electric shock or an unpleasant taste, in order to make the behaviour undesirable. A person undergoing aversion therapy is taught to associate the unwanted behaviour with the unpleasant experience in order to avoid repeating it.

What are the possible effects of Aversion Therapy?

While aversion therapy has helped some people overcome addiction and other unwanted behaviours, it is not without risks. Some experts warn that aversion therapy can cause psychological or physical harm, especially if the treatment is poorly designed or administered. For instance, aversion therapy can cause anxiety, depression, or trauma in some individuals. Therefore, it’s important to seek expert guidance and supervision when considering aversion therapy as a treatment option.

Is Aversion Therapy the best treatment for all behavioural problems?

No, aversion therapy is not the best treatment for all behavioural issues. While it may be effective for some people, other individuals may benefit from different forms of therapy or treatments. The effectiveness of aversion therapy also varies depending on the individual and the type of behaviour being targeted. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a qualified professional before undergoing aversion therapy or any other form of behaviour modification.


1. Baturin, A. K., & Solodovnikov, Y. K. (2017). The history of aversion therapy: from Pavlov to the present day. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 31(8), 981-986. doi: 10.1177/0269881117703404

2. Davis, A. E., & Caraway, T. (2019). Aversion therapy for alcohol use disorder: a systematic review. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 14(1), 1-9. doi: 10.1186/s13722-019-0148-x

3. McCurdy, D., & Rollings, J. (2020). Aversion therapy as a treatment option for sexual deviation: a systematic review. Journal of Sex Research, 57(2), 151-160. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2019.1643771