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Solution Aversion Therapy

I once read that people do not seek professional help for emotional or mental health problems because they lack awareness of a possible solution. They seek help because they have a solution which terrifies them. This relationship with a possible solution is interesting and appears in many treatment approaches. Prochaska and Diclemente's Stages of Change for example really states that you do not work with clients problems, only their attitudes to their problems. Early editions of Motivational Interviewing stressed a "behavior chasm" where clients saw a solution as too great and too distant that is demoralized their belief in change. And more recently I posted an interesting review of Dan Gilbert's which showed people often expand problems as they make progress. As our concern remains constant but the problem diminishes we expand our definition of what the problem was.

Therefore I was interested in a who host of studies which might be referred to as Problem Aversion. Pioneering studies by Aaron Kay & Troy Campbell reveal that as human beings we tend to think backwards about problems. The assumption is that we examine a problem then formulate a solution. For example we might compile the data on global warming, review the scientific evidence and they draw some conclusions into how we might address this. But this is not how humans actually think. Rather we consider the desirability of the social change first, and then examine the evidence second. This means that we evaluate the validity of the evidence in light of our pre-desired outcomes. Where outcomes are undesirable, we attack the evidence as weak regardless of its robustness.

This is an interesting quirk on human nature. Once you get the idea you start to see it everywhere in human interactions, especially in politics, academic debates and in relationships. It suggests that problem recognition is highly dependent on understand the up-side and gains of change before considering the loses. Only when there is a desirability for the solution, or at least aspects of it, will people recognize that there is a problem of sufficient magnitude to require.

To read more about this idea, visit Troy Campbell's blog here.

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