Positive Reinforcement

My dear friend, and extraordinary behavior analyst, Pat Friman, once said in a talk that he knew what a client’s problem was before they walked in the door, before he even knew their name. What he meant was that his clients were experiencing too much aversive control and not enough positive reinforcement.

While humans can be pretty tough and tolerate some aversive control, we do a lot better when our world has more positive reinforcement. Our role as behavior analysts is to help our clients flip the script by helping to reduce the aversive control and increase access to positive reinforcers.

Unfortunately, how to increase levels of positive reinforcement is not always obvious. Lots of people have enough to eat and drink and a warm place to sleep, but they are not happy. They worry and ruminate and struggle and feel trapped. These narrow, repetitive, and inflexible patterns of behavior are a typical outcome of excessive aversive control.

The question we ask in these situations then is how do we best increase the level of positive reinforcers in the lives of our clients and their families? In addition, we may also need to ask how we put these positive reinforcers in place as we teach difficult new skills. In March as part of my 4-part series at ABAC, we will explore Acceptance and Commitment Training as an entry point to this important work. ACT builds psychological flexibility, reduces aversive control, and increases access to a broader palette of positive reinforcement.

Acceptance and Commitment Training is the application of modern behavioral analysis in applied contexts. ACT, in the form of both therapy and training, has been applied successfully in an incredibly broad array of settings and populations including educational enhancement, improvements in the lives of individuals with developmental challenges, and to the benefit of families and to those providing service to these individuals. To date, there are more than 425 randomized clinical trials of ACT including both therapy and training versions of the model.

Behavior analysis is a way of understanding behavior that is strikingly different than society’s usual ways of understanding behavior. To paraphrase B. F. Skinner: The rat is always right! What Skinner meant was that if behavior seems “wrong,” it only seems wrong because we have not sufficiently appreciated context.

 

Dr. Kelly Wilson's 4-Part Series Begins March 4, 2021

  • 12-hour workshop presented in four, 3-hour parts.
  • All parts of the series are presented live, with recordings open during the duration of the workshop until 10 days after the last event of the workshop.
  • Missed the first few live events? No worries, you can purchase the series and view the recordings to catch up!

Applied behavior analysis is the application of that way of thinking. If we sufficiently understand the context, we are far better positioned to create behavior change. If we appreciate context we might see that trouble-making in the classroom allows an escape from aversives. We might see the attention, even harsh attention, can provide positive reinforcement when the attention of important adults is hard to get. Clients may simply not have the tools to identify more adaptive behaviors or the skills to implement them. It is the context, not the behavior that needs to be fixed. ACT processes, which are applied behavior analysis, can be used to investigate these contexts and, most important, ways to alter them.

During the four events in my upcoming series with ABAC, I will introduce ACT within the context of those environments where ABA is used to improve the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities, TBI, anxiety-related disorders, learning disabilities and more. Then, over the next three sessions, assisted by Sarah Wilson, I will examine the three pillars of the ACT Hexagon in detail.

Each of the events in this four-part series will be held in a "no jargon" zone. Although informed by a deep knowledge of basic behavioral principles, each session will be delivered in relatable everyday language and examples. We will not be teaching people to do psychotherapy, including ACT. We will be teaching principles and very small principle-consistent interventions.

I am excited to offer this training. I began my own work in behavior analysis at a group home helping men and women rejoin the world after decades spent in giant institutional settings that were focused more on controlling and managing people than on helping them to flourish. Watching people blossom and engage, seeing their worlds expand and richen, changed my life. That work taught me that behavior analysis, at its best, is about liberating people. I look forward to joining you in this important task.

We get started on Friday March 5, 2021 and meet on 3/19/2021, 3/26/2021, & 4/9/2021 for a total of 12 hours. Learn more about each session and register below.

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