John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

A Place for Behaviorism


I don't spend a great deal of time talking about behavioral theories in my courses on abnormal psychology and psychotherapy. There is separate course in our department devoted to behavior modification. Traditional behavioral techniques based on classical and operant conditioning can be extremely useful for therapeutically altering specific problematic behaviors and in working with particular populations.

However, I lean toward theories that focus on the "psyche" in psychopathology and psychotherapy - theories that explore how the MIND works, how it can go wrong, and how it can be healed. Realizing the importance of a model of human behavior that is eclectic, comprehensive, and integrated, I appreciate concepts from psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive, and somatic theories. Surely the fabric of the psyche includes learning by association and consequence, so I welcome a place for traditional behaviorism in that model. Teaching concepts from behaviorism also helps students appreciate, by way of contrast, those theories that emphasize intrapsychic processes.

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