Skinner (1987b) believed that psychotherapy is one of the chief obstacles blocking psychology's attempt to become scientific. Nevertheless, his ideas on shaping behavior have had not only a significant hnpact on behavior therapy but extend to a description of how all therapy works.
Regardless of theoretical orientation, a therapist is a controlling agent. Not all controlling agents, however, are harmful, and a patient must learn to discrhnhiate between punitive authority figures (both past and present) and a permissive therapist. Whereas a patient's parents may have been cold and rejecting, the therapist is warm and accepthig; whereas the patient's parents were critical and judgmental, the therapist is supportive and empathic.
The shaping of any behavior takes thne, and therapeutic behavior is no exception. A therapist molds desirable behavior by reinforcing slightly improved changes in behavior. The nonbeliavioral therapist may affect behavior accidentally or unknowingly, whereas the behavioral therapist attends specifically to this technique (Skinner, 1953).
Traditional therapists generally explain behaviors by resorthig to a variety of fictional constructs such as defense mechanisms, striving for superiority, collective unconscious, and self-actualization needs. Skinner, however, believed that these and other fictional constructs are behaviors that can be accounted for by learning principles. No therapeutic purpose is served by postulating explanatory fictions and internal causes. Skhuier reasoned that if behavior is shaped by inner causes, then some force must be responsible for the inner cause. Traditional theories must ultimately account for this cause, but behavior therapy merely skips it and deals directly with the history of the organism; and it is this history that, hi the final analysis, is responsible for any hypothetical internal cause.
Behavior therapists have developed a variety of techniques over the years, most based on operant conditioning (Skinner, 1988), although some are built around the principles of classical (respondent) conditioning. In general, these therapists play an active role hi the treatment process, pointing out the positive consequences of certain behaviors and the aversive effects of others and also suggesting behaviors that, over the long haul, will result in positive reinforcement.
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