“Behaviourists Explain Maladaptive Behaviour in Terms of the Learning Principles That Sustain and Maintain It. Discuss This Statement and Show How a Behaviourist’s Approach to Therapy Is in Stark Contrast to a Psychoanalytic One”.

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“Behaviourists explain maladaptive behaviour in terms of the learning principles that sustain and maintain it. Discuss this statement and show how a behaviourist’s approach to therapy is in stark contrast to a psychoanalytic one”.

The term ‘therapy’ has been defined as an activity which ‘involves the treatment of a disease or disorder, by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative process’. Historically, there has been considerable development in the range and types of therapy that can be used to help a client overcome problems in a modern world, with some sharing similarities but also differences. The intent of this essay is to compare and contrast the behaviourist perspective with a psychoanalytical approach, drawing out their fundamental principles but reinforcing their differences. In 1924, John Watson a behavioural psychologist, made the notorious claim in his book that ...‘if you give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select’. This ideology, later to be called behaviourism, asserted that all psychology must be completely measurable, recordable and scientific. The fundamental principle underpinning this approach was that all behaviour, both ‘normal’ and abnormal, is learned through conditioning. In simpler terms, it proposed that human behaviour is learnt by humans interacting with the world around us as well as the environment operating on us. The development of ‘behaviourism’ at this point in history has since been viewed as a reaction to the psychoanalytical models of human development presented by Freud and the Neo- Freudians which at the time challenged and confused many and appeared to lack scientific rigour. The behavioural perspective delineates two process of conditioning; Classical and Operant Conditioning. Classical conditioning was initially proposed by Pavlov (1849-1936), a physiologist who defined this method as ‘learning through association.’ His observation detailed that laboratory dogs learned to salivate to the sound of a bell that rang on the arrival of food. He concluded that an animal could learn to associate a neutral stimulus with an automatic reflex response. Later, Watson and Raynor (1920) conducted an experiment, which would now be regarded as ethically unsound, where they observed that they were able to condition Little Albert, a small child, to associate the sight of a white rat with a fear response. They concluded that Albert could be conditioned to be frightened of a something, an unconditional stimulus, he had found previously non-threatening. In effect they were able to create a ‘maladaptive’ thinking pattern, causing Little Albert emotional and behavioural problems. Further psychological research by other behavioural theorists expanded on his work, developing the theory of ‘Operant Conditioning’ which was the use of consequences to modify the occurrence and form of behaviour. Edward Thorndike proposed the ‘Law of Effect’ whereby behavioural responses which were closely followed by pleasant consequences, would ensure that the same behaviour would be highly likely to reoccur. It also stated that the more a stimuli is connected with a response, the stronger the link between the two. If however, responses were followed by adverse consequences then association to this situation were considered to be weaker. Skinner used Thorndike’s law of effect and developed the terms ‘reinforcement and punishment’ with the variants described as positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishments. Positive reinforcement in humans are gifts or money whilst negative reinforcement involved the elimination of disagreeable stimuli i.e. If a person has a headache , this can be eased by taking a headache pill thereby achieving the required outcome and removing the pain. These were regarded as the...
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