I am experiencing an Operant Condition of learning in how to become a Rehabilitation Specialist for consumers who have mental health disabilities and Co-occurring disorders. I am tasked with developing new ways of of thinking, and using skills to encourage my consumers to speak about how they are feeling. I am learning that this process is not as easy as it sounds.
There is a man where I work, who is a consumer of mental health services, who comes into the office every day and makes demands upon Staff members to help him, or do things for him. The Staff is there to assist him resolve most life living issues he may have but, we brace ourselves each day because, the consumer uses profanity, vulgar, and foul language to get what he wants, and is very disruptive when he doesn’t get immediate attention. Why does he do this? I believe the answer is because of two reasons:
1. Avoidance and Escape Behavior by most of the Staff, including myself. Most of us try to avoid any confrontation with this consumer based on past experiences. He is can be very difficult to control or reason with , and is viewed as “bad news.” The first impulse is to try to get away from him but, we can’t and this gives him power over most encounters. He has learned that when he comes in Staff will hurry up and see him first before he becomes disruptive, and 2. Reinforcement without consequences is the next thing that usually occurs. The consumer sees that he is getting the attention he is seeking without having to wait behind others, and Staff encourages him to continue using this approach again and again without ever saying so.
Since operant conditioning is about making an association between a voluntary behavior and a consequence, we rush to offer our help in order to get rid of him with voluntary behavior. Because, for the most of us, the consumer becomes our consequence. This is a relatively new way of thinking for me because, a few years ago, I would have acted differently.