Feb 28, 2010
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Hey all,
I have worked at a ABA school for children with autism for the last year and a half. I will be entering a PsyD program this fall, but most of the people I work with want to make a career out of working with children with autism. I have encountered a number of people who are in Master's programs in ABA and most of them swear by ABA and refuse to give any other theory a bit of credit/admit it might have some bit of truth or usefulness. My take is that ABA works well for working with children with autism and training animals, but it is not particularly useful in helping a typical population with their problems(at least in its pure form). Most of my supervisors swear by ABA, and dislike other approaches to psychology as well.

I have found it baffling that there exists such a huge chasm between radical behaviorism and the rest of the field. Have other people found this to be the case? I find that ABA works with our kids, but it seems like an over simplistic and depressing lens to view all human behavior through. My thought is that ABA has truth to it, but so do other approaches to psychology and that an approach that best helps/explains human psychology would likely be an amalgamation of many of different approaches.

Hmph. Anyway, I am ready to move on to a PsyD program and out of the ABA world.
 

FadedC

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ABA is very popular in autism, in part because it often gets very dramatic quantifiable results. Many people don't even realize it's a discipline outside of autism. However the extreme form of ABA practiced with autistic children is very different then what is used outside of autism. ABA really just refers to any form of behavioral therapy used, they call it behavioral analysis because it sounds less scary. And many people love behavioral therapy, again because it has easily quantifiable results so you can show that it's doing something. This is especially important for insurance purposes.

I agree though that it's only one piece of the puzzle. I don't think there are as many radical behaviorists left these days, but I had to laugh at my ABA textbook which takes a lot of jabs at psychodynamic theory.
 

JockNerd

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My experience has also been that ABA folks tend to be anywhere from bewildered to hostile towards statistics. I think that can impair their understanding of things like outcome research. Faded, I also noticed that really dogmatic ABA folks tend to straw-man other orientations.
 

futureapppsy2

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My thought is that ABA has truth to it, but so do other approaches to psychology and that an approach that best helps/explains human psychology would likely be an amalgamation of many of different approaches.
Maybe I'm being overly sensitive, but it seems like the above statement is seperating "autistic people" from the rest of "human psychology," which I really disagree with. FWIW, the autism community seems very divide over ABA--on one hand, the way in which it is applied is often seen as overly radical or too intent on "curing" autism. On the other hand, many people with autism really like the concrete nature of BT/CBT.` Also, even CBT/BT, if done correctly, isn't as " by the book" as it may seem theoretically--I took a CBT/BT last semester (as an undergrad), the professor emphasized that a good BT therapist won't seem like a BT therapist to the client.

I agree that there's probably not one theoretical orientation that is the answer to everything in psychology, though I think the substantial amount of evidence-based support for CBT/BT shouldn't be dismissed lightly.

My experience has also been that ABA folks tend to be anywhere from bewildered to hostile towards statistics. I think that can impair their understanding of things like outcome research. Faded, I also noticed that really dogmatic ABA folks tend to straw-man other orientations.
I interviewed at a program that was VERY ABA/behavioralist in orientation, and all the research done there was single-subject. While I agree that single-subject research has its value, I felt only be trained in that methodology would be really limiting to me as a researcher and withdrew post-interview.

http://forums.studentdoctor.net/editpost.php?do=editpost&p=9489653
 
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Faded, I also noticed that really dogmatic ABA folks tend to straw-man other orientations.
Yeah...the students in the Masters of ABA progam have taken courses where they go over other orientations, and attack them until everyone agrees that they are pretty much useless and ABA is the truth.

The funny thing is when you ask these students how then, ABA might help a typically functioning person lead a happy, meaningful life, all they can seem to think of is reward systems. It seems to me, though, that material goods or other reinforcement are not going to make a person truly happy. That must come from within.
 

FadedC

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The funny thing is when you ask these students how then, ABA might help a typically functioning person lead a happy, meaningful life, all they can seem to think of is reward systems. It seems to me, though, that material goods or other reinforcement are not going to make a person truly happy. That must come from within.
Well I do feel you may misunderstand some of the principles of behavioral therapy here. It's not that material rewards are making the person happy. It's that you reinforce a behavior, such as thinking positive thoughts, remaining calm, or getting on a plane without fear and that behavior occurs more often. This hopefully allows the person to function better in whatever aspect of life they are seeking help with.

As I said though, it's just one piece of the puzzle and I don't think it comes close to having all the answers or being apropriate in every case. And even my ABA teacher said he sometimes flinches with embarassment when he hears some of his colleagues speak ill of other disciplines. Just be careful that you don't fall into the same trap that they do and completely dismiss behavioral therapy in favor of your own prefered discipline.
 

irish80122

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I attend one of the last strongholds of behavior analysis and am being trained in a very behavioral department. Initially I wasn't sure how I felt about that, and even today I wish I got a bit more exposure to other orientations. That being said, while working with the "normal" clients you mentioned (those with diagnoses of depression, anxiety, etc) I have had the greatest success with behavioral treatments. I know this is purely anecdotal but that is what I have found.

Others scoff at this, but I have at times called myself a humanistic behaviorist. I know that makes little sense, but my take is that you often need a very strong therapeutic alliance for the behavioral therapies to work, so humanistic principles such as unconditional positive regard are helpful in establishing and maintaining that relationship, especially when doing exposures.
 

Therapist4Chnge

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I worked with a behaviorist for a year (research w/ children), and it was quite an eye opener. I knew the basics, but when applied correctly it was very effective.
 

psychmama

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The longer I'm in this field the more I've come to value each of the theoretical orientations and what they have to offer. I know some may disagree with me, but I think the key is finding what works with the particular client and corresponding set of problems you're working with. I tend to formulate psychodynamically, but that doesn't mean I won't use behavioral, cognitive, or family systems interventions if I think they'll be most effective in helping that client. I guess that makes me integrative in approach.

On the other hand, I once had a supervisor who said that "being integrative is like making bad soup -- you throw in a little of everything you've got and eventually wind up with something that's not good for anything except the garbage.":rolleyes: I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I'd agree that integration of treatment approaches must be done thoughtfully rather than in a random fashion.

Just my 2 cents FWIW...
 

krisrox

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I think the most important thing is to realize and address the strengths and weaknesses of each orientation. For example, while a behaviorist approach is a popular and successful way to approach autistic clients, it has its downfalls; it often comes off as being too calculated and impersonal. With this in mind, one can correctly apply ABA or choose a different approach based on the individual.
 

FadedC

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My experience has also been that ABA folks tend to be anywhere from bewildered to hostile towards statistics. I think that can impair their understanding of things like outcome research. Faded, I also noticed that really dogmatic ABA folks tend to straw-man other orientations.
Hehe, bewildered by statistics, that could definitely describe some of the ABA people I've met. Although when it comes to extreme hostility towards statistics and the scientific proccess, I've definitely met many more psychodynamic people who are like that. But just personal experiences there.
 
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I was accepted at the chicago school (los angeles) for the psyd in ABA program, but I declined. I have worked with kids with autism using ABA for the past year, and altough i like it, am interested in it, thought i wanted to stick with it, i realize it is limiting to me. i want a general clinical psyd, which is why i chose the other program (alliant). i believe in many theories and types of therapy/psychology, and want to learn about everything, not just behaviorism and appied behavior analysis.
 

JockNerd

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I've found that one of the most interesting client conceptualizations is ABA-inspired, though--it goes by a few names but I think DBT calls it "prosymptom," in which you see what rewards the person gets for their maladaptive behavior. I've found it really useful in working with clients. Token systems, less so. What token system helps a client figure out his/her sexual orientation?
 

NBAjunkie

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I came from many undergraduate ABA classes and 2 years of research/field experience in working with the population (it's very popular where I live) and here are my impressions now, after being in an ABA track to now being in a Clinical PsyD program:

-ABA, in theory, is really grounded in empiracal principles that you can observe to work with your own eyes. In reality though, the application of it wide-spread, especially when funded by the state in schools, doesn't always work well because of the following reasons:
-Not enough funding
-front-line workers not getting the best training
-new employee's are paired with the "best" kids, often resulting in a regression of positive Bx
-High burnout rate of employee's resulting in constant re-training of new employee's

I think it's best when used on animals and children with learning disabilities due to the level of language both those samples possess. My ABA teacher back in undergrad said, "consider children with Autism just as really large pegeons" ... and in a sense it's a fairly accurate remark to make. The reason why it doesn't work as well on typically developing people and gifted people is because they don't explore enough emphasis on cognition (something that animals and children with autism don't have as much of).

When I was in ABA they really tended to throw many other models by the wayside in favor of the principles of behaviorism. This was because they felt that you can only base your work off of what you can directly observe in antecedent-behavior-consequence relationship. To try to change someone's level of locus of control, cognitive based motivation, etc, is beyond their realm of things, and ABA is still best suited for treating Ss that have low levels of language and/or cognition.