The Psychological Record

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 341–354 | Cite as

A Behavior Analytic Interpretation of the Therapeutic Relationship

  • Irwin S. Rosenfarb


The paper examines, from a behavior analytic perspective, the mechanisms through which change occurs within the context of the therapeutic relationship in individual psychotherapy. The analysis focuses upon the therapist’s shaping of the client’s behavior through subtle nonverbal cues and explicit verbal analyses. In the relationship, therapists modify behavior that has created difficulties for the client in the natural environment, and clinical change is dependent upon the extent to which those in the natural environment will reinforce functionally similar response classes. Ferster’s distinction between natural and arbitrary reinforcement and Skinner’s distinction between contingency-shaped and rule-governed behavior are also used to describe the manner through which change occurs. The goal of the paper is to stimulate behavior therapists to look more closely at the therapeutic relationship as a mechanism of clinical change and to help those of other perspectives see how their effectiveness within the relationship can be understood using the principles of learning.


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Copyright information

© Association of Behavior Analysis International 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Irwin S. Rosenfarb
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUCLA Family ProjectLos AngelesUSA

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