Behavioral Theory in Counseling: Techniques & Goals

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  • 0:01 The Science of Behavior
  • 0:51 Strengths and Weaknesses
  • 2:19 Treatment Goals
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

How do behavioral theorists use scientific methodology in counseling? How effective is this approach and what are its limitations? Learn the answers to these questions in this lesson.

The Science of Behavior

A botanist wants a plant to grow faster. He applies fertilizer to the plant and measures its growth rate. He compares the result to the growth rate of an identical plant without the fertilizer. If the fertilized plant grows faster, he knows that he has achieved his goal of faster plant growth.

Do you think this method applies to professional counseling? Can you apply rigid scientific principles to human behavior? Around the middle of the 20th century, behaviorists answered these questions with a resounding 'yes.' This led to the development of behavioral theory. Behavioral theory is an approach that applies science to the principles of learning and the resolution of specific behavioral problems.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Behavioral therapy has many strengths. The most obvious of these strengths is rooted in its scientific methodology. The empirical testing used in behavioral therapy has resulted in highly effective techniques that have proven successful for a broad range of issues. Behavioral therapy can also be accomplished in a relatively brief period of time, since it pinpoints and targets a specific issue the client wishes to change.

Since behavioral therapy only addresses how to change a targeted problem, it offers a high degree of ethical accountability. There's no bias regarding what behavior should be changed, and the client has a great deal of freedom in deciding the goal of their therapy. Clients are educated and informed about what will occur and the techniques that will be used.

We've learned that behavioral therapy is highly effective, provides quick results, and is ethically sound. So why doesn't everyone choose this form of therapy? Critics of behavior therapy argue that it's too impersonal. The focus on behavior change does not address the feelings of the client or the importance of the client/therapist relationship.

Critics may also argue that behavior therapy simply treats the symptoms of the client's problem. There is no insight into why change is needed, and the cause of the client's problem is largely ignored.

Treatment Goals

Goals are of central importance in behavior therapy and seek to increase personal choice and provide opportunities for relearning problem behaviors. Under a therapist's direction, the client will define specific and measurable treatment goals from the start of the process. Assessments will occur periodically to see if progress towards meeting goals is being made.

We can see how the scientific method is applied as the therapist introduces a new variable to the client's problem behavior and measures the outcome. If progress toward the desired goal is occurring, the treatment will continue. If progress toward the goal is not being made, a different intervention will be applied. This ensures a process where success will occur.

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