Discussion: Behavioral Theory
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1. Do you think that behavioral theory represents an anti-humanistic approach with people?
Behavioral theory remains one of the most popular approaches used by social workers when dealing with clients. According to Walsh (2008), it rests on several principles. The principles are important for two reasons. First, they distinguish behavior therapy from other therapeutic approaches and models of social work. Second, they are useful in the analysis of the humanistic (or anti-humanistic) aspects of this therapy. Thus, one of the primary principles of behavior therapy is that behaviors are everything that can be observed, including what a person thinks and does (Walsh, 2008). Furthermore, behavior therapy is based on the assumption that all humans are naturally motivated to avoid pain and increase their pleasure (Walsh, 2008). Learning is the driving force of behaviors, which occurs through the constant interactions with the environment (Walsh, 2008). Based on these principles, social workers who use behavior therapy should develop interventions change reinforcement and punishment stimuli (Walsh, 2008). The best change is that which occurs as a result of immediate and consistent reinforcement (Walsh, 2008). Reinforcement should also be used to change clients' feelings and thoughts (Walsh, 2008). All these principles lead to a logical conclusion that behavior therapy is anti-humanistic.
Oe of the main reasons why behavior therapy is anti-humanistic is because it is focused on only one aspect of the client's personality, namely, the effects of environment on visible, observable behaviors. On the contrary, the adherents of the humanistic approaches in social work treat their clients as holistic individuals, whose experiences shape the way to a better understanding of their behaviors and the development of effective interventions. Another reason why behavior therapy is anti-humanistic is because it is more about understanding the nature of the human behaviors, their motives and reinforcement mechanisms, rather than help the client improve his/her wellbeing. Third, while behavior therapy treats clients as mechanistic beings driven primarily by their basic instincts, the humanistic philosophy of social work allows looking deeper into the human nature. As a result, humanistic therapies are better suited to help clients come to terms with the problems in their lives and solve them effectively, while behavior therapy does not allow the development of a more sophisticated, multifaceted view of the client's reality (Walsh, 2008).
2. Discuss some behavioral techniques that you can foresee implementing with your clients.
Despite its drawbacks, behavior therapy is still actively used in a variety of social work situations. I was particularly interested in reading about the most interesting elements of parentinng education, which is based on the principles of operant conditioning (Walsh, 2008). Walsh (2008) writes that the proposed intervention can be used individually, as well as in families and groups. I suppose that it is the most suitable for family environments. At the same time, since I do not perceive behavior therapy as being humanistic, I do not foresee actively using any of its principles in the nearest future.
3. Can you think of any behaviors that you have, that developed out of either operate or classical conditioning?
At the same time, our lives are full of examples related to the use of operant and/or classical conditioning. Operant conditioning comes into play every time I take a pill to cure a headache. Operant conditioning presupposes learning and the presence of a reinforcing stimulus. In this sense, taking a pill is a stimulus that leads to a response as the headache vanishes. Another example is when the client smiles suggesting that I am moving in the right direction and the proposed intervention works. Smile is a reinforcing mechanism that leads to a response: a decision to continue with the initial therapy, as long as the client approves it. Certainly, human behaviors are too complex to let classical or operational conditioning explain them, but it is the challenge every social worker must face as he/she is trying to uncover the hidden facets of the client's problem and successfully solve it.