Are psychological therapies all good?

Psychological research is very useful in today’s society as it provides an alternative explanation to many big questions that people ask that science can’t always answer. However, by focusing only on the positive outcomes, like helping treat issues like dyslexia and psychiatric disorders, less attention has been given to the potential for negative effects

One example of this is a study done by Pavlov, which has been used to develop a theory called Classical conditioning. Classical conditioning, in its simplest form, is a theory used to provide an explanation as to how humans develop behaviours and phobias. This theory is extremely useful in society since it gives humans a way to understand both why they have a phobia and then influence them to try and recover from or overcome said phobia. However, the conclusions from the studies conducted in order to prove the theory of classical conditioning, have also been used in conversion therapies. This has been done in an attempt to cause people attracted to the same sex to feel disgusted towards same sex relationships, and thus abhor from partaking in one. This is clearly unethical and shows how this theory of learning has been used negatively and has been taken advantage of, as it was originally discovered to provide an explanation for the development of phobias and how humans maintain that phobia. However, the results from these studies have now been further developed and used to convert homosexuals to feeling uncomfortable and disgusted by their sexuality and so encourage ‘conversion’ to heterosexuality. It is exploitation such as this which shines a negative light upon psychological therapies and surrounds the matter with such controversy – and rightly so.

Furthermore, another use of psychological theories related to phobias is the theory of systematic desensitisation. Systematic desensitisation, developed by Joseph Wolpe, is the process of exposing the patient slowly and methodically to more and more raw aspects of those experiences which scare them. While the result of this particular therapy is seen to be positive as it abolishes many phobias, there are also negative effects which are often dismissed. The outcome of the study is the appealing aspect of these therapies, but there are faulty features which are hidden from society. The systematic desensitisation way of clearing a phobia is shown to be very successful, however, a participant is ‘flooded’ (which is a form of systematic desensitisation) with their phobia, which can cause them great distress and psychological harm at that time. During the process of this therapy, the participant is overwhelmed with their phobia eg someone with a phobia of spiders is stuck in a room with a spider and will be kept in that room, and encouraged to touch and hold that spider, until that participant runs out of energy to continue to be frightened. Therefore, as a result of a couple of hours to several hours of distress and fear, the phobia should presumably disappear. To society, this theory sounds very successful, but with deeper research one can find out how traumatising this experience can be for a person.

However, psychological research is extremely useful in society as it gives us a deeper understanding of many issues that we face, and this information provides us with suitable treatments to try and make society better on the whole. Research carried out has provided specialists, on a number of occasions, with in-depth and invaluable information that has helped to both solve and prevent multiple psychological issues. For example, Freud’s work throughout the 20th century, notably his involvement in psychoanalysis, has produced a plethora of ideas and theories to explain human behaviour that are still readily used in our present society.

So, whilst psychological therapies are undoubtedly useful for bettering our understanding of our society, they pose the question, is it worth the pain they cause? It is clear – in many circumstances – that the harm done to patients and those partaking in trials is significantly worse that the success achieved. In a society that seems to prioritise maintaining secure mental health, it appears wrong that such matters of recording research are undertaken. Although there have been some positive outcomes from using psychological therapies, they are not all good.

Farley (LVI – Year 12)

Photo Credit:
The Puzzle of the Mind
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