Module 11 - Psychological Therapies and Social Interventions

Behaviour Therapy

Behaviour therapy is often used to treat specific problem behaviours, such as aggression or self- injury. This framework assumes that people behave in certain ways for a reason and in response to something which is occurring to them (either internally or externally). The behaviour serves a purpose and has a function for the person, For example, the behaviour could be a release of emotion or a way of communicating with a carer. When a person is rewarded for a behaviour (e.g. by gaining more of the carer’s attention),  the frequency of the behaviour may increase and over time become entrenched and problematic. For example, if an aggressive outburst means that the person stays at home and avoids an anxiety provoking situation (such as being in a busy place) then the aggression is likely to be repeated on future occasions in order to facilitate the avoidance. When behavioural therapy is undertaken the first step is to identify the likely functions of behaviour and any maintaining factors. Sometimes it is obvious that the person gains by behaving in a certain way; however on other occasions careful observation and analysis of the behaviour is needed. Based on an understanding of what drives the behaviour a behaviour management plan can be devised and implemented. This aims at helping the person to help their client get their reward using more adaptive means. Often this involves teaching the client new skills to help them get what they want whilst ensuring that they have a range of positive supports and activities. It may also involve altering the environment and how people respond to the behaviour. This type of approach is commonly used for people with intellectual disability as there is less need to focus on communication and understanding thoughts and feelings which may be too challenging for many people with intellectual disability. A type of behavioural therapy called Applied Behavioural Analysis is the treatment of choice for young children diagnosed with autism and this involves very intensive work in the autistic child’s own environment.
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