I studied psychology during my undergrad and graduate program in the USA. I was fascinated by persons with a mental disability, having worked in a seniors care home and interacting with the elderly with Alzheimer’s disease and many other maladies. I was even lucky enough to have an elderly aunt, 87 stay at my family’s home while I was there saving money to attend college in Miami.
My aunt had a bit of dementia, I’d say “moderate to profound”… but she also had these hallucinations and delusions that occurred once in a while to bring a little excitement around the house. The devil was on the left shoulder and Jesus was on her right shoulder and both were telling her what to do… Quite an exciting time during these episodes, I don’t need to tell you.
My aunt could be the subject of 17 whole blog posts by herself, but that wouldn’t be appropriate for this blog!
Psychology is so fascinating to me because it WORKS. It absolutely works in most situations to either alleviate the problem entirely or to lessen it to manageable levels. I’m not a proponent of drug therapy too often, but there are definitely cases that call for it. There is no other way to treat chemical imbalances in the brain sometimes than by adding chemicals. That’s the way it is and I’m OK with that. It is a horrible thing to see a relative zombied out on Lithium or its substitutes, but would you (and the person) rather live with the alternative?
I love the idea of psychological intervention because it’s “talk therapy”. It’s one person saying something to another… or maybe even one person saying it to him or herself that can cause change inside the mind. Changes in mood, behavior, actions can all be affected just by talking.
Going through my grad program I was introduced to some rather radical psychologists. One that stands out in my mind was “Milton Erickson”, an M.D. who lived between 1901 and 1980..
Dr Erickson was a proponent of the “Prescribing the Symptom” methodology of psychological treatment. It’s an incredibly simple and effective idea that has worked for me countless times both in therapeutic relationships and personal relationships throughout my life.
Dr. Erickson’s first official client came to him because he was addicted to pornography and masturbation. He already was masturbating 10 to 15 times per day, so Dr. Erickson told him to “double it”. He told the client he wanted him to do it a minimum of 30 times per day.
The poor client called the next day with problems of impotence. PROBLEM SOLVED!
The technique is THAT powerful. Why it works, in my opinion, is that by prescribing the symptom the subject is getting permission to do something even more than he / she was before. That takes the power away from the behavior… in this case, the masturbation. Things we “shouldn’t” do have power in our culture. But, the behavior could be overeating, over-smoking, over-sleeping, anything. The technique can be applied in creative ways and to most behaviors that you wish to eradicate.
Exaggerating the behavior can have the effect of making the individual more aware of just how damaging the behavior is. NOBODY does a negative behavior so much that it’s too much to stand. This is one way to approach therapy to get rid of a behavior. Prescribe more of the behavior that the person wishes to be rid of to bring it up to the level of serious hurt, pain, disgust, or other negative threshold that becomes too much to bear.
Here is another case from Dr. Erickson’s files. A 24-year-old man came to him complaining that he couldn’t get accepted into the Army because he wet the bed every night between 4 and 5 am. Dr. Erickson told him that he must set the alarm clock for 3 am. But, there’s more… He told him at 3 am. when the alarm clock sounds, he needs to stand up and relieve himself all over the bed and sheets deliberately for one week.
The problem disappeared completely.
In an earlier post on this blog, I wrote somewhat humorously about how someone could go about stopping smoking using Aversive therapy in an extreme way. In a sense, this is similar to prescribing the symptom because you are going to do the action that you wish to stop MORE, not less.
Doesn’t it make sense that if you are trying and trying to stop something that you should try the opposite and see what happens? Applying the same kind of treatment over and over and getting no results, something must change. It can change radically or in small ways, but it MUST change, yes? It may not make logical sense to change your attempts and go in the complete opposite direction – and along the same lines as what the malevolent behavior is… But, it works!
Can you use this for anything? Think about it!
I’m going to set aside some time in a few minutes after posting this to my blog to come up with some areas of my life I can apply this incredible concept to.
Best of Life!
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