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Is classical conditioning really applicable as a therapy?

The idea of classical conditioning seems to be very primative.  Is it really applicable in modern psychological treatment?

asked Sep 22, 2011 in Clinical Psychology by anonymous

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Absolutely.  It's utilized in many different ways.  The first is identifying punishments and reinforcers that occur naturally.  For example if you have a person who continues to let's say loose their temper and yell at others.  You might identify the feeling of release and justification as an immediate reinforcer that makes the person feel good but then point our the negative reinforcement or punishment such as your spouse not speaking with you, being kick out of a restaurant etc.  Behavioralists believe that we do everything we do because of conditioning and while that's a very black and white view on human behavior, undeniably we do respond to it.  Simply put, you can modify a persons behavior through the basic principle of "we like stuff that feels good and avoid stuff that feels bad."  You might even go so far as to have a person reward or punish themselves for a target behavior.  For example snapping your wrist with a rubber band to stop cursing.  Or taking oneself out for icecream for a successful week of eating healthy.
answered Sep 22, 2011 by anonymous
It seems as though the classical conditioning model assumes that there is no such thing as truly altruistic behavior.  Do you believe this is true?  That people will always, or at least most often, act in ways that are perceived as the most beneficial for themselves or that they perceive feel good to them without regard for the needs of others?  Just curious on your thoughts about this idea and how it applies this theory.
The answer to this question seems to refer more to instrumental conditioning than classical conditioning.  The main clinical application of classical conditioning even today is that it is the most effective treatment for phobias.  The absolute best treatment for phobias is a combination of classical and instrumental conditioning, known as treatment for avoidance learning.  Phobias are created because fear becomes associated with a particular stimulus.  Fear is a naturally occurring response and, therefore, is an unconditioned response that becomes a conditioned response associated to a conditioned stimuli, such as spiders or snakes.  The attempt to avoid fear by avoiding snakes and spiders is how phobias become a form of avoidance learning.  Relaxation in the presence of the conditioned stimulus, mostly through imagery now a days, is the method used to reduce the fear response in successive approximations.  Of course, there is a little more to it.  Relaxation is an incompatible response to fear.
Whether altruistic behavior is learned or supported by outside forces is basically irrelevant, since all behavior is either learned or genetic.  If all behavior is either learned or genetic, does that mean people did not have a choice?  I think not, because it is certain that we know and learn wrong behavior as well as the correct behavior and when we are altruistic, we have made the correct choice.  The correct choice does not always guarantee that we will benefit, but the wrong choice often leads to more immediate benefit although it hurts us in the the longer term, because usually immediate benefit preclude or reduce later benefits.