Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Psychological Skills Training: Issues and Controversies

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Psychological Skills Training: Issues and Controversies

Article excerpt

Implicit in the notion of skills training is the concept that a particular skill, or skillful behavior, may be instructed, acquired, and displayed in important situations. This emphasis on the delineation and acquisition of overt, effective (skillful) behaviors, clearly puts psychoeducational skills training within the behavioral model of therapy. This compatibility of behavior therapy and skills training can be easily understood when the theoretical bases of behavior therapy are made explicit. Masters, Burish, Hollon, and Rimm (1987) present the following eight primary postulates, or assumptions, of behavior therapy:

1. As compared to traditional psychotherapy, the focus of behavior therapy is on behavior itself rather than a presumed underlying cause of that behavior.

2. Any behavior may be learned, and as such, both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors are acquired through learning. Behavior therapy specifies that the mechanisms of this behavior acquisition are the established principles of leaning theory, such as classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and modeling.

3. Psychological principles can be extremely effective in modifying maladaptive behaviors.

4. Behavior therapy sets specific, overt, well-defined treatment goals. Instead of targeting a global problem such as general unhappiness, a behavioral therapist works with the patient/client to target the specific problems that are interfering with the client's functioning.

5. Behavior therapy rejects classical trait theory, which posits that a person possesses specific traits that predispose him or her to behave similarly in any situation. Rather, behavior therapy focuses on behavior-behavior relations and the mutability of a behavior relative to its antecedents and consequences.

6. Behavior therapists adapt their treatment in response to the client's specific problems, creating and modifying treatment plans in response to their effectiveness, always guided by the principles of learning.

7. Behavior therapy concentrates on the present, focusing on a client's current circumstances and problems more than on "formative" experiences from childhood.

8. Behavior therapists look to empirical support to judge the effectiveness of treatment.

Treatment success is measured by actual, significant improvement in the client's presenting problems and maladaptive behaviors. Skills training is certainly compatible with each of these assumptions. Skills training interventions are concerned with directly altering maladaptive behavior, without attempting to discern any underlying cause of such behavior. For instance, while a client experiencing trouble asserting him- or herself at work might be encouraged to discuss the thoughts that interfere with effective action, it would be in the service of altering such maladaptive thoughts rather than exploring early experiences responsible for these thoughts. Skills training rests on the fundamental assumption that a new, more effective behavior, or skill, can be learned, and typically utilizes methods such as modeling, rehearsal, and operant conditioning to instruct skillful behavior. Assessment of skill deficits is a necessary precursor to remediation of skills, and behavior therapists often utilize tools such as functional assessment and chain analysis to determine the specific problems a client is encountering.

The Skills Training Rationale

O'Donohue & Krasner (1995) have suggested that the skills training approach is based on the notion that individuals in pursuing their lives are confronted with a wide variety of problems and tasks (e.g., communicating with others, resolving conflict, problem solving, relaxing). They need responses in their repertoires to effectively and efficiently achieve their goals in these situations. In general the skills training approach to psychotherapy is based on the following propositions:

1. …

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