Key concepts/unique attributes
Both B. F. Skinner and Albert Bandura believed behavior is the result of what is learned from experience (Corey, 2009). Whereas Skinner believed environmental influences control people, Bandura believed people are goal-oriented and have specific intentions and purposes. He believed the basis for learning is observing others. Traditional behavioral theory is based on the concepts of classical and operant conditioning and that learning produces behavior (Corey, 2009). Inappropriate or abnormal behavior results when learning is based on maladapted learning, or learning as a result of maladaptive reactions.
Cognitive theory (CT) claims faulty and maladaptive thinking causes psychological disturbances (Corey, 2009). If the thinking can be corrected, so can the resultant disturbance. Cognitive processes determine how people emotionally experience and react to their environment. Ward (2011) wrote that Ellis believed individuals "have a tendency towards becoming aware of (their) irrationality and working steadily towards rationality" (p. 106). In cognitive therapy, clients learn new and more effective ways of thinking (Corey, 2009).
Cognitive theory takes into consideration the client's early childhood history but believes behaviors continue to be reinforced throughout the lifespan because of patterned thought processes. In therapy, clients explore maladaptive thoughts and learn to replace them with new rational and appropriate thinking (Corey, 2009). The primary difference between these two theories is the emphasis on overt behavior in behavioral theory and in cognitive theory, the focus is on cognition or individual thought processes (Corey, 2009).
Historical/contextual development of the theory
Two influential contributors to behavioral theory were B.F. Skinner and Albert Bandura. Skinner based his experiments on rats and pigeons from which he theorized humans behave according to reinforcement by their environment. He referred to this concept as operant conditioning (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). In essence, Skinner believed "we are what we have been reinforced for being" (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 76). It may be interesting for students to note the context within which Skinner was raised. Siegel (1996) claims Skinner describes it as confining, puritanical, and an incredibly restrictive environment. One wonders how this environment might have laid a psychological foundation for Skinner's development of radical behaviorism.
Playing a different role than Skinner in behaviorism's development, Albert Bandura explored his social learning theory, later called social cognitive theory (Corey, 2009). His theory was, perhaps, the beginning of a bridge between behaviorism and cognitive-behavioral theory (Corey, 2009). He thought Skinner's theories were too simplistic although he also believed many of the psychological constructs of previous psychological thought were far too laid back, and were neither problem-solving nor action-oriented (Bandura, 2001).
As explained in Corey (2009) more contemporary forms of behavioral therapy broadened and became more closely aligned with cognitive behavioral therapy. Albert Ellis played a distinct role in developing cognitive therapy for his clients. His original training was in traditional psychoanalysis but he found helping clients to change their thinking increased their overall progress. He developed rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) based on the idea that "people contribute to their own psychological problems, as well as to specific symptoms, by the way they interpret events and situations" (Corey, 2009, p. 275). He believed integrating therapy toward the interactions of cognitions, emotions, and behaviors was the most beneficial approach to psychological problems.
Role of the therapist
In Ellis's REBT, the role of the therapist is somewhat like that of a teacher, challenging clients' irrational beliefs, shows them how they perpetuate their problems by illogical and unrealistic thinking, and teaching them how to change the way they think (Corey, 2009). Additionally, the therapist helps clients develop a "rational philosophy of life" (Corey, 2009, p. 280). Developing such a philosophy is a tool that clients continue to use to prevent a return to irrational thinking.
In Beck's cognitive therapy (CT), the therapist uses a more collaborative relationship with the client than in REBT, but similarly identifies inaccurate and inappropriate thoughts and beliefs and teaches clients new ways of thinking as well as tools, models, and skills that continue to help them become more rational and accurate in their thinking. Beck's CT emphasizes the client-therapist relationship more than does REBT. Beck believed the quality of the relationship was central to successful therapy and that "effective therapists are able to combine empathy and sensitivity, along with technical confidence" (Corey, 2009, p. 291).
In behavioral therapy, the client-therapist relationship is central to the therapist's ability to correctly implement behavioral techniques. Functioning as guides and teachers, they "tend to be active and directive and to function as consultants and problem solvers" (Corey, 2009, p. 239). The behavioral therapist continually assesses the client and strategizes and sets goals in agreement with the client. The therapist and the client collaboratively evaluate the client's progress.
Research support for the theory
Skinner’s studies of operant behaviors have became the most useful in the field of learning and cognition (Corey, 2009). Studies have shown that behavior can be conditioned by reinforcements, positively, which increases the probability of the behavior happening again, or negatively, which decreases the probability the behavior will happen again (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Skinner’s theories still remain in wide use, helping users understand and control behaviors in psychological disciplines as well as in issues ranging from advertising to parenting (Olson & Hergenhahn, 2009). Corey (2009) claims the research of Kazdin (2001) and Spiegler & Guevremont (2003) showed behavioral therapy is generally as effective as alternative therapies, sometimes more effective.
REBT continues to be useful in therapeutic application in teaching and is effective in increasing student achievement (Warren, 2010). When comparing REBT and CT, Szentagotai, David, Lupu, and Cosman (2008a) found both had lasting effects that remained effective after discontinuing therapy for patients with major depressive disorder. Furthermore, at a six month follow-up those effects were better than pharmacotherapy (Szentagotai, David, Lupu, & Cosman, 2008b). Ward (2011) makes note that the "human capacity of awareness serves as the cornerstone for controlling our responses to external events and limiting or eliminating irrational beliefs and behaviors" (p. 106).
Bandura's principles regarding self-efficacy have been shown effective in counseling breast cancer patients (Lev & Owen, 2000). Grusec (1992) believes his theory provides a definitive parameter for future research, and "the theory's potential for developmental psychology has yet to be fully realized" (p. 785).
Bandura, A. (2002). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall.
Grusec, J. E. (1992). Social learning theory and developmental psychology: The legacies of Robert Sears and Albert Bandura. Developmental Psychology, 28(5), 776-786. doi: 10.1037//0012-1622.214.171.1246
Lev, E. L., & Owen, S. V. (2000). Counseling Women With Breast Cancer Using Principles Developed by Albert Bandura. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 36(4), 131-137. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6163.2000.tb00601.x
Olson, M. H., & Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to theories of learning (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Siegel, P. F. (1996). The meaning of behaviorism for B. F. Skinner. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 13(3), 343-365. doi: 10.1037//0736-97126.96.36.1993
Szentagotai, A., David, D., Lupu, V., & Cosman, D. (2008a). Rational emotive behavior therapy versus cognitive therapy versus pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder: Mechanisms of change analysis. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45(4), 523-538. doi: 10.1037/a0014332
David, D., Szentagotai, A., Lupu, V., & Cosman, D. (2008b). Rational emotive behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and medication in the treatment of major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial, posttreatment outcomes, and six-month follow-up. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64(6), 728-746. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20487
Ward, J. J. (2011). ‘‘Oh, the Humanity!’’ Kurt Vonnegut and rational emotive behavior therapy’s existential rejoinder to the irrationality of the human condition. The Humanistic Psychologist, 39, 105-120. doi: 10.1080/08873267.2011.540151
Warren, J. M. (2010). The impact of rational emotive behavior therapy on teacher efficacy and student achievement. Journal of School Counseling, 8(11), 1-28.