BEHAVIORAL APPROACHES Techniques: General Behavioral Techniques

theory and practice of counseling  BEHAVIORAL APPROACHES Techniques:

The general behavioral techniques are based on skinner’s operant conditioning.

Use of reinforcers:

Positive and negative reinforcers:

Positive Reinforcement:

behaviors followed by pleasant stimuli are strengthened; one of the main uses of positive reinforcement is the token economy, used often in institutional settings. Positive reinforcements used in everyday life are social recognition, money, and food.

Negative Reinforcement:

positive behavior is increased to remove/ avoid aversive stimuli.

Primary and secondary reinforcers

Primary reinforcer is valued intrinsically, such as food, while secondary is one the value of which is associated with a primary reinforcer like tokens exchangeable for food, or social recognition, etc.

Schedules of reinforcement: Reinforcement can be regular or irregular. Similarly, reinforcement can be after some time or after particular number of responses. The following are different forms of reinforcements:

  • Ratio
  • Fixed and variable ratio
  • Interval
  • Fixed and variable interval


  • o Behavior can be shaped and learned using method of successive approximations, breaking the target behavior into manageable units. Reward is a series of responses that approximate the final response. It is accomplished through actual practice or focused imagery. Another term used is chaining which refers to the specific response sequence – what follows what and how?


  • Display of behaviors in environments outside where they were originally learned. It includes 1. Home work assignments and 2. Training significant others.


  • Defined as being consistent in doing the actions desired without depending on anyone else for support. Emphasis is placed on:
  • Increasing a client’s self-control and self-management.
  • Self-monitoring through self observation and recording, e.g., self-monitoring to manage weight gain, and monitoring calorie intake.


  • Elimination of a behavior because of a withdrawal of its reinforcement


  • Presentation of an aversive stimulus to a situation in order to suppress or eliminate an undesirable behavior. The behaviors that terminate a negative stimulus are strengthened; the use of punishment is effective in eliminating inappropriate or dangerous behaviors, such as self-injurious behavior in autistic children.

Influence of Behavioral Consequences on Behavior

Target Pleasurable Stimulus Aversive Stimulus
Increase rate/strength of response Positive reinforcement Negative Reinforcement
Decrease rate/strength of response Extinction Punishment

Specific Behavioral Techniques

Behavioral rehearsal/ social skills training

  1. It was not a new concept, used previously by Moreno (1947) and Kelly’s fixed role therapy (1955).
  2. Practicing a desired behavior until it is performed the way a client wishes.
  3. The Technique has 4 steps (Goldfield & Davison, 1994):
  4. Prepare the patient
  5. Selection of target situation
  6. A hierarchy of role playing:
  7. Through shaping and positive reinforcement, client gradually improves social skills.
  8. Actual behavioral rehearsal: Therapist and client practice difficult social interactions, for example, job interviews, asking for a favour, saying ‘NO’. Clients learn to be more outgoing or assertive in social settings.

Systematic Desensitization

  • Mary Cover Jones (1924) is a pioneer in paired association. Pairing gradual exposure to an anxiety-provoking situation with relaxation is the idea provided by reciprocal inhibition. Using these principles, Mary Jones associated the fear-evoking rabbit with pleasurable, relaxed responses associated with eating.
  • Joseph Wolpe’s (1958, 1982) refined Jones technique and introduced progressive relaxation. You cannot simultaneously be anxious and relaxed; therefore if you can repeatedly relax when facing anxiety-provoking stimuli, you can eliminate anxiety. Gradually is the key.

Progressive relaxation:

  1. A relaxation response is repeatedly paired with a stimulus that evokes anxiety in the hope that the anxiety will be alleviated.
  2. Client relaxes while thinking about increasingly more threatening images of phobic object.

Example1: Systematic Desensitization

theory and practice of counseling  BEHAVIORAL APPROACHES Techniques:

(Source: Myers, Psychology, 7th Edition)

Example 2: Systematic Desensitization

theory and practice of counseling  BEHAVIORAL APPROACHES Techniques:

(Source: Huffman/ Vernoy/ Vernoy, Psychology in Action, 5th Edition)

Implosion & Flooding

  • Implosive technique first introduced by Thomas Stamfl.
  • o Desensitizing a client by exposing to a situation with dire consequences.
  • In flooding anxiety producing scene/ situation does not have dire consequences. Flooding forces persons to confront fears.

Biofeedback & Tension Headaches

  • Sensors on the head detect muscle activity.
  • System converts signal to visual display.
  • Patient watches the display, tries to reduce tension signal.

theory and practice of counseling  BEHAVIORAL APPROACHES Techniques:

(Source: Kassin, 2001)

Assertiveness training:

A person shall be free to express feelings. Techniques consist on counter conditioning anxiety and reinforcing assertiveness. Assertiveness training uses both operant conditioning and modeling principles.

Contingency contracts

It refers to spelling out the behaviors to be performed, changed, or discontinued. Usually it is performed with children, and the contract is written in a quasi-formal document.

Environmental planning:

To overcome anxiety in particular situations, environmental planning is done. For example, the most anxiety provoking situations may be avoided if it does not create any problem in client’s adjustment to normal life situations.

Aversive Techniques

These techniques are the reverse of systematic desensitization. The idea is to associate unpleasant feelings with unwanted behavior


  1. Quit biting fingernails by placing in nasty tasting solution.
  2. Show a pedophile picture of a child while delivering a shock.

These techniques have negative emotional effects. That is why they are not very mch recommended to apply. A few aversive techniques are described below:


Separating from the opportunity of pleasure.


By making something better than normal

Covert sensitization

An undesirable behavior is eliminated by associating with unpleasant stimulus. Aversive Conditioning: classically conditioned people react with aversion to alcohol, etc.

Aversion Therapy for Alcoholism

The procedure is straightforward classical conditioning. Figure given below illustrates the use of aversive approach to treat alcoholism. Alcohol is paired with a chemical that causes nausea and vomiting.

theory and practice of counseling  BEHAVIORAL APPROACHES Techniques:

(Source: Davis & Palladino, 1997)

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

  • It originated in 1970 and 1980s. Cognitive restructuring is done, taught to identify self-defeating thoughts. An attempt is made to modify the way one thinks.
  • Stress Inoculation: It is a preventive technique where coping skills are taught to handle stress. Three stages are important for stress inoculation:
  • Understand nature of stress and coping
  • Teaching coping skills
  • Practice
  • Thought stopping: To progress from outside to inner control; also teaches to replace with positive thoughts.
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