A debate rages in Behavior Analysis circles: do our inner thoughts affect our outer behavior? Some Behavior Analysts would tell you no – that as long as you control the environment and the contingencies in that environment you can change behavior. Others will tell you that even if you put a client in an environment completely controlled by behaviorists, you will still see behavior because you do not control the person’s inner contingencies (private thoughts).
Radical Behaviorists are Behavior Analysts that accept that people’s private thoughts sometimes control their outer behavior. And that in order to fully change behavior, you have to reteach the person how to respond to their private thoughts. One evidenced-based way to do this is with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy or (ACT). In a very simplified nutshell, ACT teaches that inner thoughts and emotions do not need to control one’s outer behavior.
Whether we realize it or not, a lot of us live by inner rules we have set for ourselves. For example, I cannot do math because I am not good at it. Or I cannot speak in front of people because it causes me anxiety. Since we have come to accept these rules as fact, we sometimes opt out of things we want to do. But what if we acknowledged our anxiety and instead of fighting it we did the thing we wanted to do anyway?
This question is what originally led me to ACT in the first place. And the discovery of ACT led me down another path. Could ACT be used with people with disabilities? Specifically, could ACT be used in conjunction with traditional behavior analytic practices to serve those populations with dual diagnoses of Autism and Anxiety?
The research into this topic is relatively new and limited, but it seems to support that using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy with individuals with autism, learning or intellectual disabilities would be effective.
Baum, William M. “What Is Radical Behaviorism? A Review of Jay Moore’s Conceptual Foundations of Radical Behaviorism.” Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, Inc, Jan. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3014776/.
Brown, Freddy Jackson, and Sian Hooper. “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with a Learning Disabled Young Person Experiencing Anxious and Obsessive Thoughts.” Journal of Intellectual Disabilities : JOID, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19786502.
Hoffmann, Audrey N, et al. “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Individuals with Disabilities: A Behavior Analytic Strategy for Addressing Private Events in Challenging Behavior.” Behavior Analysis in Practice, Springer International Publishing, 26 Jan. 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4788652/.
The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT