Behavioral therapy is a natural extension and application of many of Skinner's views focusing on observable behavior. The first criticism pertains to the lack of attention that behavior therapy gives to emotion. Behavioral practitioners hold that empirical evidence has not shown that feelings must be changed first in order to achieve measurable progress. In general, behavioral practitioners do not encourage their clients to experience their emotion, although some will work with aspects of emotion. Critics argue that emotions play a significant part in behavioral responses and should not be ignored. The strict emphasis on overt behavior to the exclusion of an inner life was a core concept that Skinner held throughout his career.
So hence, if there is not an inner life or at least one worth attending to, then it would follow that insight into one's motives or origins of behavioral responses would be of little value. This criticism states that behavior therapy ignores the importance of self or self-consciousness to the exclusion of overt behavioral responses. Skinner rejected the idea that such internal agents such as an ego or self allow us to make independent and free choices or derive any true benefit for examination of internal processes. This viewpoint, however, does not adequately take into account the reflective nature and imagination of the individual. A person cannot, as critics suggest, simply turn off his or her ability to reflect on past events or what propels them toward or causes them to back away from various choices.
Another criticism of behavior therapy is that it treats symptoms rather than causes. The psychoanalytic assumption is that early life events are the source of present difficulties. Behavior therapists may acknowledge the existence of past life events but do not place particular importance to those events in the maintenance of current problems. Instead, the behavioral practitioner emphasizes changing environmental circumstances and how those environmental forces reinforce particular behaviors. Critics respond with the argument that it is natural for humans to conceptualize a cause and effect relationship in behavior. This is an example of sequential learning and is used in many ways to describe the process of progress.
A final therapeutic criticism of behavior therapy involves the use of control and manipulation by the therapist toward the client. The therapist assumes a position of power with the client where he or she, through the process of reinforcement, can potentially manipulate the client's behavior responses. This criticism is largely a misunderstanding of contemporary behavior therapy. If applied in a strictly Skinnerian model, the potential for manipulation would be greater. However, all therapeutic approaches give some degree of control to the therapist, who hopes to facilitate change in the person seeking help. Most modern behavior therapists are not attempting to control their clients or manipulate them. In fact, many use techniques aimed at increased self-direction and self-control.
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