Select Page

Behavior Modification
Universal Application
Instructor: Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes PhD, LPC-MHSP, LMHC
Executive Director: AllCEUs Counseling CEUs and Specialty Certificates
Podcast Host: Counselor Toolbox, Happiness Isn’t Brain Surgery

~ Apply behavior modification in the home, workplace and for self-improvement
~ Reward and Punishment: Examining the positives and negatives
~ Triggers and Stimuli: For new and old behaviors
~ Chaining and Trouble Shooting: Examining missed triggers and increasing motivation

~ Think about a situation in which you want to change the behavior of:
~ A pet
~ Someone you live with (child, roommate)
~ Someone you work with
~ Yourself
~ Increase the frequency of behaviors
~ Positive: Adds something
~ Presents, raises, praise
~ Negative: Takes away something unpleasant
~ Chores, eating vegetables, go home early
~ What is rewarding
~ Words of affirmation
~ Acts of service
~ Receiving gifts
~ Quality time
~ Physical touch
~ Identify 3 positive and one negative reward
~ A pet
~ Someone you live with (child, roommate)
~ Someone you work with
~ Yourself

~ Decrease the frequency of behaviors
~ Positive: Adds something negative
~ Lecture, additional work, picking up sticks in the yard
~ Negative: Takes away something enjoyable
~ Air conditioning, television, freedom (time out)
~ Punishment is not necessarily the opposite of reward
~ Generally behavior change is more successful if you reward the positive
~ Simply eliminating behaviors leave the person with no response options

~ Identify 1 positive and 3 negative punishments
~ A pet
~ Someone you live with (child, roommate)
~ Someone you work with
~ Yourself

Extinction Burst
~ Occurs when a behavior fails to provide a reward or prior to stopping a cherished behavior
~ Intensifies until…
~ The energy to get the reward exceeds the value of the reward
~ A punishment is put in place
~ Examples…
~ Kid in the candy aisle
~ Day before you start your diet/stop drinking
~ Client becoming more symptomatic the week before discharge
~ It is important to examine the motivation for the extinction burst… why is the person not wanting to stop the old behavior
Behavior Strain
~ The person/animal will not do the new behavior
~ When the reward is not strong (rewarding) enough
~ When the punishment is not strong enough to deter the behavior
~ When rewards/punishments/follow up is inconsistent
~ There is too long between rewards
~ There is an alternate reward
~ Examples:
~ Providing a treat to an animal an later
~ Having a 4 year old “behave all week” to get a reward
~ Losing 30 pounds before a reward
~ Couch potato to completing a 5k
~ Completing paperwork by Thursday’s staff meeting each week
Other Principles
~ Rewards and punishments should
~ Use natural consequences when possible
~ Dog submission
~ Teen too distracted loses distractions (cell phone, computer)
~ Child acts out in store has to go sit with parent outside vs. behaving and getting to stay in the air conditioning and go play at McDonalds later
~ Follow as closely to the behavior as possible
~ Ineffective: Yelling at the dog when you get home for something he did hours ago. He will pair yelling with whatever he just did (i.e. greet you)
~ Effective: Charting nutrition after each meal, coffee when you get into work, comment on case notes as soon as you review them


~ Conditioning a person or animal so that a “token” marks the good behavior and they know a reward is forthcoming.
~ Pair a sound with a food treat (clicker training)
~ Pair praise with treat (food, shopping, night out)
~ Thank you for behaving so well at the doctor. Let’s go out for lunch.
~ If you help me get this house cleaned it will be done faster and we can go out to dinner.
~ Pair stars on a star chart/ behavior log with a reward at the end of the day or week
Triggers and Stimuli
~ Things that prompt a behavior (must be interpreted)
~ Dog hand signals
~ Thunder or Pee???
~ Leash
~ Lawn Mower (special case)
~ Company coming
~ Alarms
~ Notes / To-Do Lists
~ Evaluations
~ Putting it in the way (laundry, homework…)
~ Habit/Time of Day
~ Mood (stress eating)
~ Energy levels (poor work product, acting out)
~ Getting sufficiently used to the stimulus that it fails to prompt the behavior, especially if reward or punishment are insufficient or inconsistent
~ Sitting in an uncomfortable chair
~ Alarm
~ Note on the mirror to remind you to practice mindfulness


~ What would trigger the behavior you chose for …
~ A pet
~ Someone you live with (child, roommate)
~ Someone you work with
~ Yourself

~ Behavior is often complex.
~ Chaining helps explore the question “How did you get to this point?”
~ Start from a known point in the past
~ Getting up
~ When your mood started to change
~ Work up through what triggered the behavior

~ Dog starts pooping on the floor
~ When did it start
~ What changed that might be triggering it
~ What can be done to address the change
~ Roommate starts to fail to pick up after himself
~ What changed?
~ Client has an anxiety relapse
~ What changed?
~ Was busy all weekend Got up  didn’t sleep well  got bad news first thing  Drank extra cup of coffee at work…
~ Is the reward sufficient for the target behavior
~ Benefits of new behavior?
~ Drawbacks of old behavior?
~ Have you considered all of the benefits to the old behavior?
~ Are there competing or additional triggers/stimuli (peer pressure, someone else there)?
~ Is there behavior strain?
~ Are you sure the behavior means what you think it means?
~ Child melt down after school
~ Dukie’s pee-pee dance


~ Are the signals/triggers clear
~ Dog hand signals (Using a slightly different motion)
~ Telling child to “behave” (but not defining what that means)
~ Telling roommate to “clean the house” (but not defining what that means)
~ Telling co-worker to give you notes on group (but not specifying when)
~ Is the follow-up consistent
~ Does the person/animal have a suitable alternate behavior? (What should I do instead?)

~ Behavior change is a part of life
~ Current behaviors serve a purpose and are rewarding in some way
~ When trying to change a behavior, examine
~ What triggers the behavior
~ What is maintaining the behavior (rewards)
~ What is the desired alternate behavior
~ How can you get it to occur
~ How can you reward it
~ How can you punish (or at least prevent the rewards) of the current behavior

~ If the behavior suddenly stops or changes, explore competing demands/rewards
~ Accuracy, consistency and effective rewards are the key to behavior change