Behavioral approaches dominate the field of school psychology teacher consultation. The author examines the problems with school psychologists relying exclusively on this approach and offers an alternative consultation intervention based on the work of DW Winnicot.
"You need to do a FBA on him," is a statement that brings chills to me. An FBA is a functional behavioral assessment and the first step to producing in consultation with the teacher a BIP (behavioral intervention plan). I try to avoid these FBA's and BIP's as much as possible. School psychologists are under the gun to justify what they do, to be accountable, to show progress and what better way than relying on the behaviorist's toolbox. I am worried by the entrenchment of the behavioral approach, not only as one approach among many but championed and even legislated as the only approach that must be used in any number of situations. "It is noteworthy--and heartening--that Congress recognized the value of FA (functional assessment) in their 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA, 1999)." (Ervin et al., 2001 p. 177)
There are many approaches that can be taken to help a child and teacher, behavior modification being one of them. The general psychological literature is rich in exploring these many approaches but unfortunately the school psychological literature has tunnel vision. The practicing school psychologists, who are daily, yearly working with students and teachers and who use a variety of other approaches are rarely heard from.
Behavior Intervention Plan Problems
My rejection of the primacy of behavior modification rests on my practice and my reflection in action as I've tried this approach. It is clear that I come with a prejudice and may unconsciously (Unconsciously!) sabotage behavioral techniques. There is a tendency to vilify what one is not good at. Obviously there are many good, sensitive behavioral practitioners doing transforming work but good effective work can be done without utilizing the formalized behavior modification approach.
I have philosophical problems with functional assessment and formal behavior intervention plans. These techniques are too intrusive and limiting. The targets of most of theses individual behavioral plans, in my experience, are boys, those acting out types who are a bane to the organized learning environment. Researchers like Chodorow (1989) and practitioners like Pollack (1998) point out that the main socialization problem of boys is their separation at an early age from their feelings and the creation of what D.W. Winnicott (1965) refers to as a "false self." Winnicott wrote about the importance of the uninterrupted flow of the authentic self of a child. A child comes to know who he really is when he is not forced into a reactive mode, submerging his authentic self to respond to the needs and demands of others. Behavior modification's main strength is filtering out the hidden emotional world and assessing what is left, the behavioral and the environmental antecedents and consequences of a target behavior, and then modifying that environment to extinguish a problem behavior and/or promote a positive one. Behavior modification is focused on having a child respond appropriately to the demands of the formal power structure. The authentic self is always in danger of being crushed along with the troubling behaviors.
Behavior modification emphasizes the here and now--observable behavior. But present behavior, especially troublesome behavior, can have an important connection to past history. Behavior is linked to an individual's emotional past. The behavioral approach can cut that past and those emotions off. A surface intervention pushes those emotions further away.
Another limitation is that behavior modification while powerful is situation specific. I have not observed a strict behavior approach that results in the "good" behavior of a child in one classroom produce that same kind of behavior when the youngster is in other classrooms. …