Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Social Learning Therapy

Here's another style of therapy probably under-utilized:

This is based on Bandura's work on social learning theory and self-efficacy.

The best examples along this line involve the treatment of phobias. Many approaches to phobias involve graded exposure (i.e. practicing the feared activities), cognitive therapy (examining and challenging thoughts which are associated with the fears), relaxation training, and medication (sedatives and antidepressants).

A neglected but extremely important component of therapy for phobias includes a social learning, or social modeling approach.

For example, a person afraid to swim would simply watch others swim, as a component of treating the fear. But, of course, this could just lead to the frightened person feeling left out, and heighten the sense of alienation or futility. A more effective social modeling experience would be for the person with the phobia to watch OTHER people with the same phobias learning successfully to swim. This could start off with watching videos, and move on to working directly with other people. It may not be convincing evidence that swimming phobia can be overcome just by watching a bunch of swimmers; but it may well be much more convincing evidence to watch other FEARFUL swimmers successfully learn.

If we see someone we feel is similar to ourselves do a difficult task successfully, we are more likely to be able to try or do that task.

I think this is one of the advantages of group therapy, provided there are abundant examples of individuals in the group who are beginning to cope well with their problem. Social modeling of this sort is a particular strength of 12-step groups, where individuals can see others struggling, sometimes slipping back, but finally succeeding, in a way that they can relate to and see themselves in.

Here are a few links to some sites dealing with Bandura's theories:
(this link summarizes some of Bandura's opinions about the influence of media violence, etc. on children's behaviour -- an important subject which could be generalized in many ways)
(a nice biographical sketch of Bandura and his ideas)

An introductory experience to something like a social learning therapy approach could involve looking at videos or documentaries showing individuals struggling with and resolving longstanding mental illnesses. This could be a source of inspiration, motivation, and hope. I would like to find some examples of documentaries of this type; if any readers are aware of good examples, please let me know.

I've just found one site that has a few videos (actually the site seems pretty mediocre to me, but I can't find a lot of other better stuff right now); I think the most pertinent videos to look at from here are in the "programmes" section and would be the case studies on page 3 about phobias (you have to log in to this site as a guest to get into the videos):

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