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Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral theories differ fundamentally from psychodynamic theories in many ways. Rather than focusing on the interplay of unseen dynamic forces of the mind, they focus on observable behaviours; rather than arguing that a person’s unconscious has important influences on his or her behaviours, they state that forces in the environment and outside the person have the primary influence. Behaviours, they believe, are shaped by their antecedents (things occurring before the behavior) or consequences (things occurring after the behavior) or both, rather than by unseen mental processes. Thus as they try to understand a child’s behavior, behaviorists focus not on processes inside the child’s mind but on observable stimuli that elicit the child’s behavior or on observable responses to the child’s behavior. When analyzing a particular behavior, behaviorists focus primarily on the present. Although they might have some interest in how a behavior developed earlier in a child’s life to provide some context for understanding it, the primary focus is on how that behavior is being maintained by current antecedents and consequences. Although behaviorists understand that it is through past environmental influences that behaviours have developed, their primary goal is to understand how behaviours are maintained currently so that they can be changed in the present (Wilson, 1989).