"What are the advantages and disadvantages of the behaviourist approach to mental disorder?"
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Introduction To Abnormal Psychology PS1110A Compulsory Coursework Essay Title Year 1 - Term 2 Hemis Number: 127844 Word Count: 1,571 "What are the advantages and disadvantages of the behaviourist approach to mental disorder?" The behavioural approach to psychology emphasises the effects that environmental stimuli can have on a person. Because of the importance of the environment, behavioural psychologists concentrate on the process of learning and any lasting change that occurs as a result of any experience. The origins of behaviourism can be traced back to a paper written by John Watson entitled, 'Psychology as the behaviourist views it' (Watson 1913). He emphasised the importance of the environment in our behaviour and there are three central ideas behind the theory. There is an emphasis on observable responses and environmental stimuli, a rejection to any concepts that are not evident from direct observation and a focus on experience and learning as the fundamental basis behind understanding behaviour. Behaviourists see people as biological organisms that are innately capable of responding to the environment in which they live. Humans like many other organisms are capable of performing a wide range of complex responses, however these are seen as combinations of simpler responses in behaviourism. Continuity is assumed between humans and all other animals, which means that they are all capable of making similar responses even if those of humans are more complex.
Behavioural therapy takes a practical, problem solving approach and it is a logical extension of behaviourism as applied to psychopathology. The therapist has three main roles; the first is to identify maladaptive learning, then to facilitate the unlearning of maladaptive responses and finally to teach the person more adaptive learning strategies. Techniques, which have been developed from classical conditioning to treat mental disorders, include systematic desensitisation, flooding and aversion therapy. Systematic desensitisation was devised by Wolpe (1958) and aimed to treat, fears, phobias and anxieties. The therapist works with the client and the client is told to make a hierarchical list of feared situations starting with those that produce little fear and ending with those that are most frightening. Gradually over a number of sessions the client works their way up the list with graded exposure to all the situations having first been encouraged to relax. The idea behind this therapy is to replace the conditioned fear response with one of relaxation and it is therefore the pairing of relaxation with the feared stimulus that brings the desensitisation. This technique can either be used 'in vivo', which means the patient is actually exposed to the stimuli in real life, or 'in vitro' where images are used to create the fear response. Flooding which is also known as 'implosion' is quicker and may be more effective then systematic desensitisation.
Bandura (1969) however argues that if 'underlying' is defined as 'not immediately obvious' then behavior therapists do look for underlying causes. The task is for the therapist to work with the client to find the most significant causes. According to social learning theory, phobias can develop through observing fears in others and modeling behavior upon those observations. For example if a parent reacts badly to the presence of a spider the shild will mimic that behavior. Programmes of behavior modification like 'token economy', do not offer a cure for mental disorders; instead they enable patients to 'fit' better into their social world. For example, chronic psychiatric patients sometimes have no motivation to maintain personal hygiene and therefore tokens can be earned for washing and brushing hair for example. The intention is to give the person back some dignity. The natural rewards that will replace the tokens to reinforce the behavior are that others will be more sympathetic towards them. It has been suggested, however, that the so-called success of this therapy may have more to do with its need for closer interaction between the patient and the nurse, which suggests that the attention is therapeutic, not the technique. Behavioral methods have given the opportunity for nursing staff to become more involved in treatment, which may have increased their investment in helping the patient. Despite its scientific status, behaviorist methods are still susceptible to the problems of evaluation that all therapeutic approaches suffer.
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