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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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúdistress‚ÄĚ (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 ‚Äďboth reward chemicals
–¬†¬† ¬†Sally calls this ‚Äúhappy‚ÄĚ

–¬†¬† ¬†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 ‚Äúfear‚ÄĚ
–¬†¬† ¬†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‚Äď X is causing me to have the feeling that‚Ķ
–¬†¬† ¬†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‚Äôs 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 / ‚Äúhappy‚ÄĚ
–¬†¬† ¬†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‚Ķlol)
–¬†¬† ¬†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 ‚Äúself-efficacy‚ÄĚ
–¬†¬† ¬†Loss of control
–¬†¬† ¬†The Unknown
–¬†¬† ¬†Increase ‚Äúself-esteem‚ÄĚ
–¬†¬† ¬†Rejection
–¬†¬† ¬†Isolation
–¬†¬† ¬†Increase feelings of ‚Äúcompetence‚ÄĚ
–¬†¬† ¬†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