B F Skinner and Behavior Therapy
B. F. Skinner is without a doubt one of the most predominant people in the development of behavior therapy. His work was essential in the development of both behavior modification and behavior therapy. Behavior Therapy is a form of psychotherapy. Psychotherapy means word therapy, without drugs or other medical treatments. Behavior Therapy is used to treat a variety of problems in both adults and children. It is used to treat many different illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, phobias, and many other forms of psychiatric disorders.
The first occurrence of behavior therapy was in 1953 in a research project done by Skinner, Ogden Lindsley, and Harry C. Solomon. Behavior therapy is based upon the principles of classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is the teaching of a response to a new stimulus by pairing it repeatedly with a stimulus for which there is a biological reflex (Encarta Dictionary, 2006). The best-known example is Ivan Pavlov’s experiment in which dogs heard a bell ring every time food appeared and eventually started salivating at the sound of the bell alone.
Operant conditioning is a form of learning that takes place when an instance of spontaneous behavior is either reinforced by a reward or discouraged by punishment. The principles involved have had a strong influence on behavior modification as well as on other kinds of therapy (Encarta Dictionary, 2006). In Skinner’s research, he put a rat in a cage later known as the Skinner box, in which the rat could receive a food pellet by pressing on a bar. The food reward acted as a reinforcement by strengthening the rat’s bar-pressing behavior. Skinner studied how the rat’s behavior changed in response to differing patterns of reinforcement. By studying the way the rats operated on their environment, Skinner formulated the concept of operant conditioning, through which behavior could be shaped by reinforcement or lack of it.
Some critics feel that operant conditioning was a dangerous technique because Skinner was controlling people and could have manipulated them. In reply to their criticism, Skinner argued that control is not wrong. Control is very important and sometimes unavoidable in education, government, and therapy (Bijou, 1994). What Skinner objects to is the fact that control is usually used in negative ways which include the use of threat, punishment or to use other people. Skinner argues that because of this, people are against control, because the people in control use their power in a negative way. Positive Reinforcement Skinner claims that positive reinforcement “strengthens and preserves the kind of behavior that produces the reward” (Skinner, 1938). Negative Reinforcement Skinner defines negative reinforcement as “something that strengthens and maintains the kind of behavior that reduces the stimulus”(Skinner, 1938).
The study of behavior therapy started because of a social need to deal with a large number of people with behavioral problems. B.F. Skinner was one psychologist to help lead the way in reforming the existing psychotherapies. He used a behaviorist approach, the basic ideas of behaviorism are: human behavior is a product of the Stimulus-Response interaction and that behavior is modifiable. This approach has turned the attention of psychology to solving real behavior related problems. Behaviorists believe behavior should be explained in terms of environmental stimuli. With the behaviorist approach it is known that certain environmental conditions tend to produce certain types of behavior.
One remarkable feature of human behavior which Skinner deliberately rejects is that people creatively make their own environments (Chomsky 1971, Black 1973). The world is as it is, in part, because we make it that way. Skinner protests that “it is in the nature of an experimental analysis of human behavior that it should strip away the functions previously assigned to autonomous man and transfer them one by one to the controlling environment” (Chomsky 1971, p. 198).
Behavioral therapies use learning principles to eliminate or reduce unwanted reactions to external situations, one’s one thoughts and feelings, and bodily sensations or functions. Rather than dealing with unconscious conflicts, this approach deals with events of which people are aware of or can readily become aware of. The therapist teaches the client to replace undesirable responses in their day-to-day living (n.d.,www.4therapy.com)
There are five learning based techniques used in behavior therapy, which includes exposure therapy, contingency management, behavior activation, modeling, and biofeedback. Exposure therapy is when the therapist exposes the client to the actual situation or an imagined version of the upsetting experience. When using exposure therapy the client forms associations between the upsetting experience and feeling relatively untroubled. The end results in new associations taking over from the old ones.
Contingency Management is when desirable actions are rewarded and undesirable actions are ignored when possible. Behavioral activation is a method used in treating depression. The therapist composes a list of activities the client needs to engage in for a normal or satisfying life. Modeling is a learning technique that involves the client observing another person perform a desired behavior. The client then learns to successfully perform the behavior without negative outcomes. Biofeedback is where a bodily function such as heart rate or muscle tension, is monitored and the information is fed back to the client. They then learn to relax to slow their heart rate or decrease their muscle tension.
In his time, B. F. Skinner attempted to make a lot of changes in modern psychology. Made people didn’t agree with his changes because he didn’t think that psychology had to do with feels or emotions. He felt that psychology had suffered in the past because it tried to explain human behavior in terms of feelings and states of mind. Skinner thought that psychology had wasted a lot of time making theories about the mind and personality. He suggested that psychology should only deal with behavior that is “observable in the world in which it occurs.” (Henderson, 1990) In conclusion, B. F. Skinner was a very intelligent man that viewed behavior as “a response to a stimulus.” Though he may have based his theories mostly on animal testing and he many have even portrayed man as a being without feelings, creativity, or morality, he was truly great and saw behaviorism like no one had seen it before. (Skinner, 1938)