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Happiness Isn’t Brain Surgery:
Behavior Modification Basics/Part 1
Presented by: Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes
Executive Director, AllCEUs
Host: Counselor Toolbox

Continuing Education (CE) credits for addiction and mental health counselors, social workers and marriage and family therapists can be earned for this presentation at

–    Define behavior modification
–    Explore how behavior modification can be useful in practice
–    Learn basic behavior modification terms:
–    Unconditioned stimulus and response
–    Conditioned stimulus and response
–    Discriminitive stimuli
–    Learned helplessness

Why Do I Care
–    Change means doing something different or modifying a response
–    That response can be a neurochemical one (stress response) or an overt behavioral one (smoking)
–    Behavior modification principles will help you understand some of the reasons people act/react the way they do
–    By understanding what rewards(causes and motivates) people’s behavior we can better address their issues
–    The focus on observable, measurable conditions to the exclusion of cognitive interpretation underscores the mind-body connection
–    Behavior modification in its truest form is concerned only with observable, measurable behaviors, stimuli and reinforcement
–    Emotions, interpretations and mental processes have no bearing

How can this be useful in practice
–    Traditional (strict) behavior modification can be quite useful in simplifying stimulus/reaction
–    Integrating the cognitive interpretations (labels) can help people in identifying and addressing what is causing their “distress” (Behaviorists would refer to excitatory response)
–    Understanding what causes feelings can also give people a greater sense of empowerment.
–    Puppies learn appropriate behavior through reinforcement and correction
–    Puppy 1 tackles puppy 2 / threat
–    Puppy 2 responds by tackling puppy 1 / counter threat
–    Both puppies get a surge of adrenaline
–    The puppy that dominates receives a dopamine surge that reinforces the prior behaviors — do that again.

–    If Puppy 1 plays too rough, then puppy 2 will either become more aggressive or leave.
–    Either way, puppy 1s behavior is punished.
Example 2
–    Humans have learned to label certain internal experiences with feeling words (angry, scared, happy)
–    Sally goes to a pet store
–    A puppy comes out, sits in her lap and puts is head on her leg
–    This contact (we know from studies) usually causes the release of dopamine and oxytocin –both reward chemicals
–    Sally calls this “happy”

–    If Sally had previously had a threatening experience with a dog, when she saw it, her body would likely respond by secreting adrenaline, kicking off the fight or flight reaction.  Sally would label this as “fear”
–    The brain receives signals and, based on prior learning (conditioning), responds with either:
–    Fight/Anger or Flee/Fear (adrenaline/norepinepherine)
–    No reaction/neutral
–    Pleasure/Happy/Do this again (Dopamine/norepinephrine/Serotonin/GABA/Oxytocin?)
–    Humans label these different chemical responses with feeling words.
–    The same response can be labeled differently by two different people (fear vs. exhilaration)
–    People with anxiety, anger or resultant depression may need to:
–    Recondition  X is not actually a threat (anymore)
–    Relabel
–    Excited vs. terrified
–    Stressed vs. hungry
–    Helpless/anxious vs. fat
–    ACT approach– X is causing me to have the feeling that…
–    In American culture we often use nonfeeling words to describe emotional states.
–    Part of recovery is identifying the physiological response to the stimulus and labeling it with a feeling word
Basic Terms
–    Unconditioned stimulus and response
–    Something that evokes an unconditioned/automatic response in an infant and adult
–    Loud noises
–    Pain
–    Excessive cold/heat
–    Contact
Basic Terms
–    Conditioned Stimulus
–    Something that in itself has no meaning to the person (yellow light)
–    Conditioned Response
–    The person’s reaction to the stimulus (slow down or floor it)
–    Conditioned stimuli and responses can be traced back to survival Fight-Flee-Forget-Repeat
Basic Terms
–    Discriminitive stimulus
–    All things being equal, the stimulus which triggers the reaction. (Includes vulnerabilities)
–    Going to work
–    Good day
–    Bad day
–    Learned Helplessness
–    A response which occurs when people have tried and failed to either fight or flee.  Giving up.

Measurable Responses / Basic Feelings
–    Excitatory (Adrenaline, norepinephrine, Glutamate)
–    Fight / Anger, rage, resentment, jealousy, envy, regret, stress
–    Flee / Fear, anxious, nervous, apprehensive, timid
–    Neutral
–    Learned Helplessness / Depression
–    Inhibitory (Serotonin, GABA, Dopamine)
–    Repeat / Happy, elated, victorious, successful, competent

Fight or Flee
–    Stimuli that present a threat of pain or death can trigger the excitatory fight or flight response
–    Through experiences (conditioning) people learn what threats
–    They can defeat (fight/anger)
–    Will defeat them (flee/anxiety)
–    A useful intervention is to identify
–    The threat
–    Why is was labeled fight/anger/controllable or flee/fear/uncontrollable
–    Break down parts of the situation into controllable and uncontrollable
A Note About Threats
–    Fight or Flee (survival)
–    Basic Fears
–    Loss of Control
–    Underscores most fears
–    Fighting or fleeing provides control
–    Isolation & rejection
–    Primitive: Death/inability to procreate
–    Can be examined and counter conditioned
–    Is this really going to kill you?
–    Examine the exceptions
–    Examine alternate explanations

A Note About Threats
–    Fight or Flee (survival)
–    Basic Fears
–    The unknown
–    Primitive: Death/pain
–    Can be examined or counter conditioned
–    What is the probability this will end in death or pain?
–    How many other times have you confronted an unknown and the outcome was positive or neutral?

A Note About Threats
–    Fight or Flee (survival)
–    Basic Fears
–    Failure
–    Primitive: Death/pain
–    Can be examined or counter conditioned
–    What is the probability that if I fail it will result in death or pain?
–    If I fail, is that pain related to fear of rejection and/or loss of control?
–    How many other times have you tried and failed and the outcome was at least neutral?
–    How can you make failure into a positive or neutral (Hint: Learning experience)

–    Some stimuli elicit little or no response and are often ignored
–    MindLESSness can cause people to fail to identify
–    Positive stimuli / dopamine / “happy”
–    Negative stimuli / adrenaline / fight or flee
–    Little things build up and lead to a big reaction.  (Water and the dam)
–    Negative stimuli can be reconditioned as neutral
–    Find the positive (snowy day)
–    Not worth the energy (rainy day)
–    Adding and noticing positive stimuli in the environment is vital
–    Grouchy day
–    Happy day
–    Positive stimuli in the environment can include
–    Smells (pumpkin spice…lol)
–    Sights (wildlife, my kids)
–    Sounds (babbling brook)
–    Feel (crisp autumn breeze)

Putting It Together
–    Humans label physiological reactions with feeling words.
–    What do you experience when you are scared?
–    What do you experience when you are angry?
–    How do you differentiate?  (Hint: Prior experience)
–    What do you experience when you are happy?

Putting it Together
–    How can you use discriminative stimuli to
–    Increase happy responses
–    Increase a feeling of control and “self-efficacy”
–    Loss of control
–    The Unknown
–    Increase “self-esteem”
–    Rejection
–    Isolation
–    Increase feelings of “competence”
–    Failure

Putting it Together
–    How can you use discriminative stimuli to:
–    Decrease angry responses
–    Decrease anxious/fearful responses
–    Decrease learned helplessness

–    Behavior modification is concerned with the stimuli in the environment that evoke a response
–    Unconditioned stimuli evoke a response based upon survival needs
–    Conditioned stimuli have no meaning to the person, but, through experience, become associated with pleasure or pain/threat
–    The excitatory responses, anger and fear serve to protect the person from what they have in the past experienced as producing pain/being threatening.

–    Stimuli can be reconditioned in order to change the biochemical response (feeling)
–    People with a logical/experimental mindset often respond well to behavior modification techniques
–    It is imperative to include alternate responses.
–    In the next segment we will discuss
–    Reinforcement
–    Punishment