Behaviorism and Adlerian Psychology


The internet is a wonderful place where people can indulge their most arcane interests. There are sites dedicated to rocket building, stamp collecting, and even building backyard radio telescopes.


One of my interests is the use of behavior modification techniques to aid Adlerian interventions for the disabled. (These are different psychological approaches for teaching hard to teach people.)   I like reading about it, talking about it and writing about it. 


Since you've made it to this page you are either interested in exploring really arcane and dusty corners of the internet, or you have an academic or professional interest in counseling or psychology.  If you are just incredibly bored and ended up here looking for a little excitement, please check out this page, and consider visiting my friends Mike and Donna.


Behavior Modification, (also called Applied Behavior Analysis, and Behavior Therapy), has been used to teach skills to institutionalized learners for years.  The general idea is to reward people for doing what you want them to do. 


(A common misconception about behavioral interventions is that desirable behaviors earn rewards, while undesirable behaviors earn punishment.  Over the last twenty years or so it has become generally accepted that punishment, [called "aversive stimuli" in the biz], is not as effective as positive rewards, and creates more problems than it solves.  Not to mention that subjecting others to physical, emotional or psychological pain is probably some combination of illegal, unethical and immoral.)


Behavior Modification is a great way to teach skills in institutions where you've got complete control over the environment of the learner, but what if you are operating in the real world?  Behavior Modification interventions run into insurmountable problems when they are moved out of the antiseptic confines of institutions. 


One the problems with behavioral approaches to learning is that things like values and social needs are assumed not to exist, let alone have an effect on behavior. 


For example, I once worked with a deaf and mentally handicapped young man who, I was told, had "issues with sexuality".  It turned out that the staff, exclusively female, was attempting to teach him conservative sexual behaviors, while he was hanging out at topless bars, (which he had every legal right to do, and acted quite appropriately while being entertained).  The young man was just fine with his sexuality -- it was the staff who were having "issues".


The female staff was offended by this young man's sexual values and they were attempting to make him discard his views on male sexuality and accept theirs -- that dating and romantic or emotional fulfillment is far more satisfying then watching beautiful half naked women dance on a stage.  While there might be some truth to this for  middle-aged women, it's a ridiculous concept to the ears of most 18 year old men.


This situation illustrates some of the challenges behavior modification faces in when it is exposed to the unpredictability of our chaotic society.  There is little control over the environment the client is subjected to.  The influence of things like TV, radio, books, magazines, advertisements all had a bearing on how the young man viewed sexual relationships, yet the staff had very little control over how their client was exposed to these influences, or the conclusions he constructed from them.  (In a society based on the ideals of individual freedom this is exactly as it should be.)


As soon as the learner walks out of the laboratory or institution there are all kinds of uncontrollable and unpredictable environmental and internal variables that influence behavior.  The main drawback of behavioral interventions is that they fall to pieces as soon as the learner enters a socially motivated environment where most of us live. 


It's been my experience that a strict behaviorist approach must be combined with socially orientated goal identification based on Adlerian philosophy.  Failure to take into account social aspects of normalized living is the major reason that behaviorally orientated intervention plans fail. 


Staff frustration springing from  sponsoring plans doomed to failure can lead to mistaken support for institutionalized styles of interventions.  In a busy group home or classroom it's a lot quicker and easier to medicate or restrain people into manageability than it is to constantly run new behavior programs.  Of course, while the use of drugs and restraints is an aid to short term management, they also ensure that no community appropriate behaviors will be learned.  And that's a situation that results in mini institutions springing up in the community 


Avoiding the inadvertent institutionalization of community programs is why it is so important to combine Adlerian values and philosophies with behaviorist procedures and objectivity.  By integrating both disciplines into one unified approach the chances for effective interventions that foster personal responsibility and self determination is dramatically increased. Behaviorism supplies the science and objectivity needed to construct effective interventions, while Adlerian Psychology ensures that sensitivity and humanity will be incorporated into the final product. 


So what exactly is Behavior Therapy and Adlerian Psychology?  Click on the links for a quick tour.


Assumptions of Behavioral Therapy

(Click here for a comprehensive Behavior Modification Glossary)


Assumptions of Adlerian Psychology