If we change tack at this point and look at the work of Skinner (1904-1990), Watson
(1878-1958) and Pavlov (1849-1936), we see the source of psychological training as
external and achieved by cognition of the environment. This means of changing the
person by studying and shaping behavior through new patterning, utilizing action to
change thinking is the epitome of the external locus of control.
Seeing the world around them as a bigger influence than personal goals or desires and to know a
person‘s circumstances is to have a good idea how that person will behave, Beck
(1976) stated that cognitive behavioral therapy suggested individual problems were
due to distortions of reality based on incorrect premises. Therapy helped the client
create new ways to solve problems, which Beck called learning to learn or deutero-
learning, Gillen (2003).
Skinner believed that what is important is reinforcing behavior (operant conditioning). It is the inclusion of action or external stimulus which introduces us to a connection between psychotherapy models and a physical reality;
Fear played an important role in cognitive behavioral therapy, Gillen (2003). The
potency of behavioral engineering can scarcely be overestimated, Skinner 1948
(2005 ed. p192)
This perspective on therapy can easily have an outdoor dimension. In a significant
move away from Freud‘s internal world to one of external forces, we have a
philosophical benchmark which assists us in finding an anchor point for possible
theories of behavior, rather than theories of mind, which now need not exist-as brain
functions, effectively without an immaterial mind Dennett (2003).
In this instance the change of behavior happens when the person is conditioned by a new external force.
Kimball and Bacon (2003) posited that during initial stages of a wilderness therapy
experience staff were directive, however, as time went on, and skills developed in
clients, staff focused on empowering their clients. (Upskilling and outsourcing – my shorthand)
“… the ultimate improvement comes from the environment which makes them wise
and compassionate,” Skinner (1971) quoted by Bowden. Skinner famously wrote a
book soon after the second world war on ―behavioral engineering‖ (2005 pvi) positing a
behaviorist utopian parallel to Thoreau (1854) Walden Two in which he offered that
we teach only the techniques of learning and thinking(p110). He delineated a
possible future without heroes (p222) or history‖ (p223) personal favoritism like
personal gratitude has been destroyed by our engineers (p220) and a new conception
of man compatible with our scientific knowledge Skinner (2005 p294).
While behaviourist models may sometimes seem laughable and Dickensian they surround us
in the operation of prohibitive laws, the driving power of money and status and the
physical construction of urban spaces. Far from being discarded these models
underscore major mental health results based programs throughout the western
sphere of influence whose focus is on control.
These programs, mostnotably CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) have morphed
into EST (empirically supported treatment) and EMT (empirically based treatment)
through the acceptance of behaviourist social schema under the guise of a top down
command and control ethos. The common name for this matrix is “results based or “evidence based” practice, which to my mind tries a little too hard to advertise or shape the audience’s judgement call on their efficacy (but would you expect any less from a behaviorist :).