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Modeling, Behavior Rehearsal, and Behavior Contracting

After the success of desensitization therapy, behaviorists were hopeful other techniques could be transplanted from the conditioning laboratory to therapy. Albert Bandura's Principles of Behavior Modification (1969) provided new techniques under the label of social learning theory.

Bandura promoted concepts like observational learning (learning by watching a model, also called modeling or imitation). An observer could experience vicarious reinforcement when seeing somebody else get reinforced, becoming more likely to perform a behavior.

What were some concepts promoted by Bandura in the mid-1960s?

Behavior rehearsal helped a person learn new behaviors. A therapist might ask a client to act out situations in which new behaviors are practiced.

Here is an example from Wolpe and Lazarus (1966) in which a client appropriately dubbed "PR" is taught to sell himself in a job interview.

Mr. PR was told to pretend that the therapist was a prominent business executive who had advertised for an experienced accountant to take charge of one of his companies. Mr. PR had applied for the position and had been asked to present himself for an interview.

The therapist instructed Mr. PR to leave the consulting room, to knock on the door and to enter when invited to do so... At the therapist's deliberately resonant "Come in!" Mr. PR opened the door of the consulting room and hesitantly approached the desk.

The therapist interrupted the role-playing procedure to mirror the patient's timid posture, shuffling gait, downcast eyes and overall tension.

The "correct" entry was rehearsed several times until Mr. PR's approach to the prominent executive-behind-the-desk was completely devoid of any overt signs of timidity or anxiety. He was then taught to deal with a variety of entries–being met at the door; the employer who makes himself incommunicado while studying important looking documents; and the overeffusive one who self-consciously tries to place him at ease.

Next, the content of the interview was scrutinized. Mr. PR's replies to ques­tions concerning his background, qualifications and experience were tape-recorded. Mr. PR was instructed to place himself in the position of the prospective employer and asked to decide whether or not he would employ the applicant on the basis of his recorded interview.

It was clear from the recording that the elimination of Mr. PR's hesitant gait and posture had not generalized to his fal­tering speech. Above all, it was noted that Mr. PR tended to undersell himself. Instead of stressing his excellent qual­ifications he mumbled rather incoherent and unimpressive generalities about his background and training.

The therapist demonstrated more efficient verbal responses that the patient was required to imitate. In this manner, Mr. PR was able to rehearse adequate replies to specific questions, and to prepare an impressive-sounding discourse for use in unstructured interviews.

The above-mentioned procedures were employed during five therapeutic sessions held at weekly intervals. Mr. PR canceled his sixth appointment and did not communicate for approximately 2 months. He then made another appointment. On entering the consulting room, he said, "You are looking at the Chief Accountant of..." (a large industrial organization). (Wolpe and Lazarus, p.47)

Behavioral contracting is a technique whereby a therapist arranges an agreement or "contract" with a family or an individual. Usually this contract involves a contingency such as positive reinforcement administered when the client fulfills his or her side of the contract.

Chapter 5 provided an example of this technique. It involved a child named Rena who was misbehaving at school.

A behavior therapist arranged a simple contract with Rena's father and Rena. Whenever Rena's teacher said Rena had a "good day," the father would take out some time out to play with her after school, doing whatever Rena wanted (usually a favorite game in the yard).

Rena's school behavior improved dramatically. Rena probably craved attention, and the power of natural social reinforcement (some quality time with her father) was a powerful reinforcer.

How did a simple behavioral contract encourage a girl to behave at school?

Rural drug abuse is a big problem in the U.S., and behavioral contracting is one of the techniques used to encourage clients in addiction treatment to stay with a program. Leukefeld, Godlaski, Clark, Brown and Hays (2000) gave an example in their book, Behavioral Therapy for Rural Substance Abusers. They wrote:

Once a case management plan is developed, the therapist begins to consider specific behaviors that will help the client meet substance abuse treatment goals such as, 'Attending three Intensive Outpatient (IOP) groups this week.'

Incorporating behaviors into a format called a behavioral contract helps motivate clients because clients receive rewards if they do certain things (e.g. 'My wife will cook a special meal if I attend two IOP groups this week') and suffer unpleasant consequences if they do not do certain things (e.g. 'Failure to attend the IOP meetings will result in therapist contacting probation officer'). (p.45)

How was behavior contracting used with rural substance abusers?

Therapists meet with clients regularly to give encouragement and monitor progress. The therapist reviews goals, sets up dates for accomplishing them, and reviews the client's successes to encourage more progress.


Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of behavior modification. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Leukefeld, C., Godlaski, T., Clark, J., Brown, C., & Hays, L. (2000) Behavioral Therapy for Rural Substance Abusers. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.

Tharp, R. G., & Wetzel, R. J. (1969). Behavior Modification in the Natural Environment. New York: Academic Press.

Wolpe, J. & Lazarus, A. (1966) Behavior Therapy Techniques. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

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