Attention self-control triad: what it is and how is it used in therapy

The secret conditioning paradigm was developed by Joseph R. Cautela in 1966 and is embodied in behavioral therapies. In this type of conditioning, stimuli are presented to the imagination.

In this article we will learn more about the triad of self-control, a technique for modifying secret behavior also developed by JR Cautela, used primarily in addictive, sexual and impulse control disorders, and which seeks to reduce unwanted behavior.

    Self-mastery triad: what is it?

    The triad of self-control is a technique derived from self-control, specific to Joseph R. Cautela. Its purpose is to decrease the likelihood of the occurrence of an unwanted response or behavior by using imaginative stimuli. Remember that behavior can also be thought (in this case, unwanted).

    Self-control techniques aim to acquire and exercise the ability to exercise dominance over ourselves, and involve learning to control our behaviors in all their aspects (i.e. our thoughts, actions , our emotions, etc.).

    Cautela’s Self-Control Triad he seeks to modify the frequency of a response by manipulating its consequences; with this technique, the antecedent stimuli, the behavior itself and the resulting stimuli (consequences) are presented to the person in an imaginary way, that is, in imagination (the person must imagine everything in detail).

    Secret packaging

    The triad of self-control belongs to the paradigm called secret conditioning (In Imagination), also developed by Cautela, in 1996.

    Hidden conditioning is a type of procedure that involves a series of steps:

    • Educational phase.
    • Training phase.
    • Application phase.
    • Consolidation and generalization phase.


    For its part, the triad of self-control of prudence develops in three stages:

    1. First step

    The patient, when about to perform the unwanted behavior (Or when he just thinks about this behavior, or an unwanted thought pops into his head), he says out loud, “Enough!”, And stops the unexpressed thought.

    In other words, this step can include stopping thinking, which is another hidden conditioning technique, also peculiar to prudence.

    2. Second step

    After saying “Enough!”, The second step this involves the patient taking a deep and relaxing breath, And so relax.

    3. Third step

    The third and final step of the self-mastery triad is mentally visualize a beautiful picture or scene.

    Origin of hidden packaging

    As we have seen, it was Joseph R. Cautela who initiated the studies on secret conditioning. In 1966, Cautela described and used the technique known as covert sensitization, from which an imagined aversive consequence (for example a feeling of nausea) was applied. dependent on inappropriate or unwanted behavior, which is intended to be eliminated.

    Before Caution, as an antecedent of hidden conditioning, we find two other authors: Wolpe (1958), who employed Systematic Desensitization (DS) and Man (1965), who carried out an experimental control of symbolic behaviors.

      Applications of the technique

      Cautela’s Self-Control Triad applies to the thoughts or behaviors we want to reduce and / or eliminate.

      These thoughts or behaviors can appear in certain disorders such as addictive disorders (such as gambling or drug addiction), impulse control disorders, certain sexual disorders such as paraphilias, etc. In other words, that is to say psychological disorders in which control is lost in performing certain actions, Persistently.

      Another similar technique: stop thinking

      The technique of stopping thinking, also from Cautela, is similar to the triad of self-control, although it is not equal.

      This technique focuses, as the name suggests, on controlling thought. This can be put into practice when we are feeling nervous or upset by some kind of thinking. (Or various); to apply it, we will need to focus on them and identify those with negative connotations. At this point we will be like (subvocally), “Enough!”. Then we will replace those thoughts with more positive ones.

      For thinking stopping to be effective, a lot of practice and persistence will be required, so that we can properly identify our negative thoughts, as well as invert them and turn them into positive ones.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Cautela, J. (1977). Hidden packaging. Editorial Descleee DeBrouwer, SA Bilbao, 11-20.
      • Cautela, J. (1984). The Self-Control Triad: A Secret Conditioning Procedure [The self-control triad: A procedure for covert conditioning]. Advances in Latin American Clinical Psychology, 3, 17-33.
      • López, A., Sueiro, E. and Nóvoa, MI (2009). Changes in sexual fantasies. Preliminary study. Proceedings of the X Galician-Portuguese International Congress of Educational Psychology. Braga: Universidade do Minho, 2777-2788.
      • Vallejo, M. (2012). Handbook of Behavioral Therapy. Tomo I. Madrid: Dykinson (Temas 6-12).

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