The following text is an introduction to avoidance behaviour by psychotherapist, David Kraft.
Avoidance behaviour is a common mechanism in psychotherapy and has also been called ‘safety behaviour’, ‘avoidance coping’, ‘escape coping’ and, simply, ‘coping’. In psychotherapy, often individuals reveal that they have developed a number of avoidance behaviours (Bouton, Mineka & Barlow, 2001; Brann, 2012; Kraft, 2012) in order to cope with their psychological problems. Avoidance behaviour is often a maladaptive strategy which needs to be addressed in the psychotherapy sessions. One of the most common examples of this is the avoidance behaviour of someone who has developed phobic anxiety. For instance, individuals who suffer for flying phobia will go at lengths to avoid getting into an aeroplane. Some might take a train across Europe in order to meet some friends on a holiday; this is likely to cost more money and take a great deal of time. Another example of an avoidance behaviour is someone who fears getting germs on her hands and who wear gloves in order not to have to wash for, say, the thirtieth time that day. In short, avoidance behaviours are strategies that ‘protect’ the patient from potential stress or anxiety.
Other avoidance behaviours include:
- Not arriving to sessions
- Drinking excessively or self-medicating so as to avoid cognitively engaging with the problem
- Apathy to psychological dialogue or analysis
- Social withdrawal
- Avoiding contact with a potential loved one in order to avoid rejection
- Staying inside to avoid agoraphobic ‘symptoms’
- Moving to another country in order to deny recent social problems
- Refusing to work
- Dissociating from real-life events
- Become overly sensitized to phobic stimuli and avoiding them
There is an obvious link with avoidance behaviours and the person’s defence mechanisms (Folkman & Lazarus, 1980); thus, it is important to address these problems in the therapy in order to help the individual gain more mastery of his behaviour.
David Kraft, PhD
UKCP Accredited Psychotherapist