Behaviourism and Functional Analytic Psychotherapy

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Within the psychology sphere, many ideas, concepts and theories have been established and are being developed to explain behaviour, attitudes, and events. These are adopted by various professionals in the field of psychology and are often expanded to aid them in client-therapist situations. In this field, a paradigm that I find to be particularly interesting and useful is Behaviourism. From this school of thought I have chosen to discuss one of its practical applications; Functional Analytical psychotherapy.

What is Functional Analytical Psychotherapy?

Functional Analytical Psychotherapy (FAP) was developed by Robert Kohlenberg and Mavis Tsai and is based on B.F. Skinner’s approach to human behaviour. In comparison to cognitive-behavioural treatments, FAP results in a much more intense and personal psychotherapy relationship (Functional Analytic Psychotherapy, 2010). Its contextualistic approach seeks to understand behaviour with the notion that “one’s perception of reality is the product of the context in which such perceiving occurs” (Tsai, Kohlenberg, Kanter, Kolenberg, Follette, Callaghan, 2008). FAP stands firm to the belief that human beings all own unique experiential histories and should be treated accordingly. (Tsai et al., 2008) There are numerous possible causes for behaviour that, as mentioned earlier, can be accounted for depending on the specific context in which it occurs. FAP strives to uncover the causes of behaviour by applying a functional analysis. Tsai et al., (2008) refer to three types of stimuli behind behaviour that are of concern. These are;

1. Reinforcement
Reinforcement refers to the presence or removal of a stimulus, in other words, the consequences that occur after the behaviour and affect the future frequency or probability of that behaviour.

2. Discriminative stimuli
This refers to the circumstances under which these behaviours are reinforced and thus results in the increased or decreased frequency of this behaviour.

3. Eliciting stimuli
Eliciting stimuli, like discriminative stimuli, precede the behaviour but elicits involuntary or reflexive behaviour.

Reinforcement is stressed greatly in this particular theory and underpins the application of its therapy. Three aspects of reinforcement are outlined by Tsai et al., (2008):

1. Natural versus contrived reinforcement
This type of reinforcement refers to the way in which the reinforcement is delivered. Natural reinforcement occurs most commonly in everyday life, for example, receiving a distinction for an exam would encourage the learner to continue learning as hard in order to achieve that result again. Contrived reinforcement on the other hand refers to reinforcement that is unlikely to occur in a natural setting. This type of reinforcement is set up to purposefully affect the future frequency of that behaviour. For example, once a client has broken down emotionally in a session the therapist might encourage this openness of expressing their feelings by providing the client with words of affirmation. This is not something that would typically occur in a natural setting.

2. Within-session contingencies
This is based on the notion that if the consequence of certain behaviour occurs directly after the behaviour, it will be more effective. Therefore, significant therapeutic change occurs when the contingencies take place in the session. This is because the therapist is able to provide the appropriate response and use it for effective change in that person’s behaviour.

3. Shaping
FAP takes into account that clients will do their best to improve and therapists need to acknowledge this and reinforce their attempts. The clients learning history and absence or presence of behaviour in their repertoire must be taken into account. A particular behaviour in one client may be a problem, but for another client it might be an improvement. In this type of therapy, natural reinforcement contingent on the...
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