Behaviourists explain maladaptive behaviour in terms of the learning principles that sustain & maintain it. Discuss and a behaviourist’s approach in contrast to a psychoanalytic one.
In this essay I will be demonstrating a knowledge of the main behaviourist principles and approach, and how they can be related to maladaptive behaviour. I will then compare this approach with the psychoanalytical approach, evaluating the different approaches and considering the ethical issues.
Maladaptive behaviour and the Behaviourist principles
Maladaptive behaviours refer to behaviours that inhibit a person’s ability to adjust to particular situations. This behaviour is often used to reduce one’s anxiety, but the result is dysfunctional and non-productive. For example, avoiding situations because you have unrealistic fears may initially reduce the anxiety, but is non-productive in alleviating the actual problem long term.
Behaviourism is a school of thought in psychology based on the assumption that learning occurs through interactions with the environment. Two other assumptions of this theory are that the environment shapes behaviour and that taking internal mental states such as thoughts, feelings and emotions into consideration is useless in explaining behaviour. Behaviourists are unique among psychologists in believing that it is unnecessary to speculate about internal mental processes.
The behaviourist theory believes that cultural and sub – cultural conditioning moulds and shapes behaviour and subsequently the personality. Behaviourists also believe that people are born with only a handful of innate reflexes and that all of a person’s complex behaviours are the result of learning through interaction with the environment. They also assume that the processes of learning are common to all species and so humans learn in the same way as other animals.
A human being, according to the behaviourist, has his life determined for him since he is the product of the culture that causes him to be as he is. The theory therefore, is very deterministic. To the behaviourist, normal behaviour results from acceptable conditioning and abnormal behaviour results from defective conditioning. The behaviourist isn’t concerned in what developmental processes may have influenced a person’s behaviour. They believe that if the patient is taught to understand his environment and how he interacts with it, he will automatically understand himself and his behaviour. The behaviourist functions from the position that if a neurotic behaviour can be learned, then it can be unlearned.
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.
CAT stands for Cognitive Analytic Therapy and CBT for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. There are similarities between these therapies – both are brief therapies with a limit on the number of sessions; both will offer a focus on a limited range of goals and may use similar ways of helping you keep track of your difficulties, e.g....
Bibliography: Theoretical approaches in Psychology, M Jarvis : About Behaviourism, BF Skinner : Patient.co.uk : Psychnet: Class notes
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