A variety of aversive stimuli have been used as part of this approach, including chemical and pharmacological stimulants as well as electric shock. Foul odors, nasty tastes, and loud noises have been employed as aversive stimuli somewhat less frequently. The chemicals and medications generate very unpleasant and often physically painful responses. This type of aversive stimulation may be risky for persons with heart or lung problems because of the possibility of making the medical conditions worse. Patients with these conditions should be cleared by their doctor first. Often, however, the more intrusive aversive stimuli are administered within inpatient settings under medical supervision. An uncomfortable but safe level of electric (sometimes called faradic) shock is often preferred to chemical and pharmacological aversants because of the risks that these substances involve.
In addition to the health precautions mentioned above, there are ethical concerns surrounding the use of aversive stimuli. There are additional problems with patient acceptance and negative public perception of procedures utilizing aversants. Aversion treatment that makes use of powerful substances customarily (and intentionally) causes extremely uncomfortable consequences, including nausea and vomiting. These effects may lead to poor compliance with treatment, high dropout rates, potentially hostile and aggressive patients, and public relations problems. Social critics and members of the general public alike often consider this type of treatment punitive and morally objectionable. Although the scenes were exaggerated, the disturbing parts of the Stanley Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange that depicted the use of aversion therapy to reform the criminal protagonist, provide a powerful example of society's perception of this treatment.
Parents and other advocates for the mentally retarded and developmentally disabled have been particularly vocal in their condemnation of behavior therapy that uses aversive procedures in general. Aversive procedures are used within a variety of behavior modification strategies and that term is sometimes confused with the more specific technique of aversion therapy. Aversive procedures are usually based on an operant conditioning model that involves punishment. Advocates for special patient populations believe that all aversive procedures are punitive, coercive, and use
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