Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Towards a Unified Perspective on Human Service Delivery Systems: Application of the Teaching-Family Model

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Towards a Unified Perspective on Human Service Delivery Systems: Application of the Teaching-Family Model

Article excerpt

"Strange how much you've got to know, Before you know how little you know."


"What isn't worth doing, isn't worth doing well; what needs doing is worth doing, even though not very well."

Abraham Maslow (1966, p. 14)

The field of behavioral science has been marked by the development of a plethora of empirically derived client-specific technologies for treating a wide range of human problems. In contrast, there has been a relative paucity of conceptual models regarding the application of these techniques to the more complex arena of human services. Thus, behavioral approaches, in an attempt to distance themselves from more traditional models, have avoided developing more complete and yet functional and empirical models to help us understand human service systems. This could represent a case of "throwing the baby out with the bath water." The perseveration by behaviorists in applying a succession of univariate techniques to solve complex human problems brings to mind the comment by Maslow (1966, pp. 16-17) that, "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."

What is the net result of the current situation in which method precedes theory? Reviews of the clinical behavioral literature repeatedly demonstrate concerns about the lack of generalization across time, settings, or people. What Stokes and Baer noted in 1977 regarding the need to attend to issues of generalization still holds true today. While many imaginative technologies have been developed, only some of these have been shown to be effective and fewer still to be generalizable. Even rarer are those that have been applied on a large scale to address broad social problems. In addition, those in the academic community continue to be concerned about the impact of their research on clinical practice and conversely, clinicians still question the applicability of most psychological research to their practices (Conway, 1984).

This chapter is designed to point the way toward a "broader and deeper" perspective on the delivery of human services, using examples drawn from research and practice with behavior-disordered adolescents and families. First, it will be proposed that a behavioral systems analysis offers us a starting point for examining the broad context of our meticulously crafted technologies. Next, examples that highlight the multilevel nature of this model will be presented. The model's implications for understanding clients, programs, and organizations, as well as the socio-political context of these subsystems, will be discussed.

We will then focus on some of the issues surrounding the development of the Teaching-Family Model as a means of treating adolescent behavior disorders. Finally, we will examine the implications of the Teaching-Family Model for understanding human service programs, organizations, and service delivery systems. Our ultimate aim is to suggest that only a broader and deeper systems perspective can help us narrow the gap between what we de-sire from our human services and what we actually can deliver.


"The field worker and the laboratory [researcher]...tend to adopt different but compatible methods of achieving perspective. The methods are analogous to zooming in and zooming out with a lens. To the extent that they are reproduced objectively, wide-angle, telephoto, and microscopic views must be simultaneously valid, and zooming from different directions merely focuses attention on different facets of the same phenomenon." W. Menzel, Primate Anthropologist (cited in Hunter, 1987, p. 58.)

The above quotation is reproduced here to underscore the importance of perspective when applying a behavioral technology that has been validated at the microscopic or single-client level to the macroscopic service-delivery level. As Bernstein (1982) has noted, the impact of a particular intervention can have a multilevel impact. …

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