Promoting Appropriate Behavior in Daily Life Contexts Using Functional Analytic Psychotherapy in Early-Adolescent Children

Article excerpt

The fields of Behavioral Contextual Psychology have produced important educational and behavioral applications, which are rarely used, in a comprehensive, integrated form. Yet these newer methods that include derived relational responding and innovative third wave approaches could produce enhanced effects if combined and applied within the behavioral analytic theoretical framework

Empirical Research in this field has accelerated over the last two decades, paving the way for many seminal clinical and educational applications, including some of the most currently well-known psychological intervention approaches such as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Functional Analytic Psychotherapy--FAP (Callaghan et al. 2004; Kohlenberg & Tsai, 1991; Tsai et al. 2009)

Mounting evidence of adolescents' emotional problems, especially anxiety, led TICE center researchers (Tecnologie Individualizzate per le competenze dell'eta evolutiva--Individualized Tecnology for Developmental Skills), to examine new ways of helping adolescents with these ever more frequently reported issues in the learning center context. The researchers at TICE have begun to integrate recently developed FAP principles with more traditional behavioral analysis strategies to create more targeted interventions for assisting preadolescents and adolescents.


FAP is a radical behavioral psychotherapy approach based on validated principles of behavior change, though. FAP itself is still being studied with respect to its clinical efficacy. The putative mechanism of change is contingent responding of the therapist to clinical problems and improvements, and some research on the topic has been conducted (e.g., Tsai, Kohlenberg, Kanter, and Waltz, 2009). FAP examines the therapist's direct effect on individual behavior, which must then extend into the individual's daily life through a process of promoting new derived relational responding (DRR). The approach is therefore not based on conventional generalization processes requiring a long-term instructional phase to cover a significant portion of many potential daily life situations (Hayes, Strosahl & Wilson, 1999).

In principle, FAP may be readily integrated into other therapeutic approaches, such as ACT, which also shares the same pragmatic perspective and overlaps with many of its theoretical foundations.

FAP uses the therapeutic relationship as a context for the advanced implementation of rigorously operationalized reinforcement strategies but also possesses concurrent and ecological validity. Although based on experimental evidence, FAP is a highly individualized, idiographic approach. One of its more innovative as well as pragmatic aspect is Tsai et al.'s (Tsai, Kohlemberg, Kanter, Kohlenberg, et al., 2009) classification distinguishing between behaviors that are directly modifiable during intervention sessions--"clinically relevant behaviors" (CRBs)--and their functional equivalents enacted in the natural environment--i.e., "outside sessions" (OS) behaviors.

Intervention based on FAP principles with preadolescence and adolescence allows therapists to apply rigorous scientific principles and work within the well-defined area of behavior analysis. Intervention is therefore aimed at socially significant and observable behavioral change, by giving due consideration, however, to the fundamental relationships of preadolescents with peers. Operationalizing a therapeutic relationship that is technically based on the spontaneous and deliberate use of reinforcement strategies, makes it possible for therapists to influence these individuals' behaviors, thereby helping them broaden their social repertoires. The process leads to more flexible behavior through application of multiple source of social reinforcement, multiple topographies and different situations.

This type of analysis, based on the application of functional analysis (Follette & Bonow, 2009) has demonstrated marked clinical efficacy, although the account for the positive effects is not simple. …