A rubber band on the wrist to help you forget: self-administered aversion therapy


If toxic thoughts you want canned
What you need is a plain rubber band
It never has missed
When placed on the wrist
Of a person’s non-dominant hand.

Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  On sabbatical to dance back from the brink of burnout, while my one-year non-compete clause ticked off I’m having adventures and working in out-of-the-way places.   Currently in New Zealand’s South Island, I’m living in Amberley and working in Waikari, less than an hour from quake-devastated Christchurch.

I live my life according to principles and usually I don’t have to prioritize them. Yesterday I did.

“Do what’s right for the patient” governs my professional life. “You can either be happy or you can be right” generally leads me to choose being happy in my personal life.

I had to choose doing the right thing for the patient, and, in the process choosing to be right.

I made the right clinical decision, the patient disagreed, and a confrontation followed.

I probably puzzled the next patient by being so happy to see him, but contrast remains the essence of meaning.

Though I enjoyed every patient after the first one, the gnawing, intrusive thoughts from negative interaction haunted me the rest of the day. I didn’t take my own advice.

We get time in a series of moments. When you get out of bed in the morning you can be certain that you’ll face good moments and bad moments, and most moments will be neutral. If you let the bad moments contaminate the neutral moments, you give them too much power. If you let the bad moments into the good moments, you’re giving up joy. And if you let hypothetical bad moments in at all, you’re missing the point.

I had some bad moments towards the beginning of the day. It had been so long since I let negative thoughts resonate I’d forgotten the rubber band trick.

Put a rubber band on your non-dominant wrist.  When you experience a thought that brings useless worry, pull the rubber band back twelve inches and let it go.

The psychiatric profession calls this technique “self-administered aversion”.  It works for any intrusive mind activity, including a name, phrase, or song that annoyingly gets stuck in your head.  It can do away with any habit if the patient is motivated enough to do it.

It doesn’t work if a person doesn’t want to change, and it will not modify a person’s basic personality characteristics. 

It serves as an aid to not remembering.

I slipped a rubber band on my wrist this morning when I left for work.  By now, I forgot why.

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5 Responses to “A rubber band on the wrist to help you forget: self-administered aversion therapy”

  1. Alan Beck Says:

    This a.t is far gentler than that carried out in a Dunedin private hospital in the 1960s. ref shm.com. Waikari a fine place. We used to attend the pictures in Amberley Hall, 1960s.

  2. Cat Consten Says:

    I full heartedly subscribe to this form of self administered therapy! I quite smoking, permanently! Stopped obsessive thoughts, eastern less, just to name a few.
    It’s not abuse, not abuse. People will you far greater and far long w if allow then too!

  3. Quora Says:

    What is the most convenient way to self inflict pain with minimal long term damage?

    Okay so I initially read your question and was going to go on a spiel about putting yourself down is an effective way to hurt yourself without causing long term physical damage, so thankyou for the details. Personally I would consider pinching yourself…

    • walkaboutdoc Says:

      Self-administered put downs are not the same as self-administered aversion, and on this we agree.

      Pinching oneself vs. the rubber band? The real question comes down to: How’s it working?

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