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Behavior Analysis and Social Work

  • Bruce A. ThyerEmail author
Living reference work entry
Part of the Social Work book series (SOWO)

Abstract

This chapter provides an overview of the social work applications of the practice approach known as behavior analysis to the field of mental health. Behavior analysis has been an empirically supported approach to mental health practice for over 50 years, and its general principles have been accepted within social work since the 1930s. The chapter distinguishes between the philosophical foundations of this approach, known as behaviorism, from the practice applications derived from learning theory, and its hallmark approach to evaluation of clinical practice known as single-system research designs. Behavior analysis makes use of the theoretical principles of respondent, operant, and observational learning and through these concepts has derived a very wide array of empirically supported methods of mental health assessment and treatment. The focus on behavior analysis is on a client’s behavior, but behavior includes not only overt, publicly observable actions but also one’s emotions and thoughts, since these too are functions of the human body. Behavior analysis has always been concerned with promoting functional behavior of clients, but also the enhancement of positive feelings and thoughts, with parallel efforts to reduce dysfunctional behavior, maladaptive thinking, and dysphoric affect. The widespread belief that behavior analysis is solely focused on overt behavior is a harmful myth. Some clinical social workers are complete, or radical, behavior analysts, accepting the philosophy of science called behaviorism, the conceptual framework of social learning theory, and the research approach of single-subject designs. Others borrow selectively from among these principles to improve their practice in a more eclectic manner.

Keywords

Social work Behavior analysis Evidence-based practice Clinical practice Empirical Social learning theory 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Social WorkFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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