How Has Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Therapy Changed?: An Historical Analysis of Journals

By O'Donohue, William; Fryling, Mitch | The Behavior Analyst Today, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

How Has Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavior Therapy Changed?: An Historical Analysis of Journals


O'Donohue, William, Fryling, Mitch, The Behavior Analyst Today


Applied behavior analysis and behavior therapy are now nearly a half century old. It is interesting to ask if and how these disciplines have changed over time, particularly regarding some of their key internal controversies (e.g., role of cognitions). We examined the first five years and the 2000-2004 five year period of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) and Behavior Therapy (BT) and found: 1) a doubling of the use of DSM diagnostic categories for both, with studies published in BT using these in a majority (51%) of titles; 2) a significant increase of studies published in JABA focusing on developmental disabilities (from 24.7% to 61.8%), but no such increase or predominate focus in BT; 3) a significant decrease in BT explicitly focusing on behavioral principles (51.8% to 12.5%) with JABA showing a sustained focus on behavioral principles (100% and 100%); and finally, 4) studies published in JABA showing little interest in studying newer behavioral conceptualizations (10.8%) in the 2000-2004 five-year period. Implications for the field are discussed and further discussion is encouraged.

Keywords: applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, behavioral principles, JABA, Behavior Therapy

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Philosophers of science have suggested that disciplines can change over time. Sometimes there are sudden and dramatic scientific revolutions and sometimes the change is more gradual (Kuhn, 1970; Popper, 1959). However, there have been few studies or comments about changes and the historical consistencies in the behavioral therapies. By "behavioral therapies" we mean applied behavior analysis, behavior therapy, and cognitive behavior therapy. JABA is typically regarded as the leading journal of applied behavior analysis, and BT as the premier journal of behavior therapy. These therapies are nearly a half century old, practiced by a different generation of individuals (arguably the third generation). Therefore, questions arise regarding how, if at all, behavioral therapies have changed over time. What similarities and differences exist between these two branches of behavioral therapies? This sort of intellectual activity is generally construed as "meta-science" and seeks to provide a look at the behavior of scientists to see if anything interesting can be gleaned from this perspective (Radnitzsky, 1973).

Moreover, there have been some long standing and significant controversies within these therapies. It is interesting to track changes in publication rates with respect to these controversies. Although there are a number of controversies, we chose four. One such controversy is related to "the medical model" and specifically the use of diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Criticisms of this practice have been long standing (see Krasner & Ullmann, 1965) and more current (e.g., Follette & Hayes, 1992). Critics have claimed that there is a fundamental inconsistency between a behavioral, functional description, and the topographical, symptom checklist, clusters of behavior thought to underlie DSM diagnostic categories. Proponents of the DSM categorization have ranged from the pragmatic (e.g., some agencies rely heavily on it for grant funding) to more positive appraisals of its potential utility in research and practice (e.g., Blashfield & Draguns, 1976; Spitzer, 1999). To what extent has the DSM influenced research in the behavior therapies, and has this changed over time? One way to measure this is to examine the use of DSM categories in journal titles (e.g., Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia), vs. other problem descriptions that do not use DSM diagnostic terminology (e.g., head banging).

Another, more recent concern has been that behavior analysis has narrowed its focus, particularly in applied areas (Hayes, 2001). There is a long standing tradition of behavior analytic focus and significant success with the developmentally disabled population. …

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