Behavioral Techniques

Token Economies

Token economies are a behavioral technique commonly used in relational contexts to create structured learning environments which provide consistent opportunities for reinforcement of positive behaviors- for example, by teachers in classrooms, parents in their homes, and floor staff and counselors in residential treatment facilities. Token economies work by establishing a set of desired behaviors or expectations for participants to follow which can then be monitored and visually represented (e.g., as a token or as points marked on a chart) allowing each participant to be rewarded for positive behavioral performance by tokens or points (immediate reinforcer) which can be saved up and later exchanged for larger and more meaningful reinforcers (e.g., social privileges like going to a concert with friends or a tangible objects like a smart phone).

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When using token economies, it is important that participants understand that reinforcers are contingent upon concrete and specific behaviors, that the behavioral guidelines required to earn tokens are attainable and realistic, and that frequent opportunities are provided to exchange tokens for a variety of meaningful and motivating reinforcers. Token economies are often used with children who may struggle to stay on task in some social situations, for example, children diagnosed with autism or ADHD.

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Biofeedback describes an intentional process of monitoring and behaviorally responding to physiological responses in the body (e.g., heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sweat gland activity, muscle tension, breathing rate, cortisol levels, and/or neural brain wave patterns). Clients who learn to monitor and becoming aware of their body’s physiological responses in reaction to certain stress inducing thoughts or situations, may be able to learn to anticipate these bodily responses and to engage in behaviors like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation that can help to counteract stress responses in the body (e.g., through lowering blood pressure or decreasing heart rate). Biofeedback has been used to help address clients symptoms related to anxiety, pain management, traumatic brain injury, difficulty sleeping, ADHD, and depression (Meyers & Young, 2012; Seligman & Reichenberg, 2014).

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Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a behavioral relaxation technique which involves taking slow, deep breaths in through the nose, pulling air all the way down into the abdomen, expanding the diaphragm, and then exhaling out through the mouth. Diaphragmatic breathing might be thought of as the opposite of shallow breathing which occurs in the upper chest area.

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a behavioral relaxation technique which involves focusing on and selecting specific muscle groupings and then sequentially tensing and relaxing the muscles within each muscle grouping. It is common for counselors to teach and practice behavioral techniques such as mindfulness meditation, diaphragmatic breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation with clients in session and then to encourage clients to use these techniques between counseling appointments. For example, a client who discloses intense feelings of self doubt and anxiety prior to speaking in front of their coworkers might be encouraged to practice diaphragmatic breathing immediately before a business meeting or presentation.

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