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4/37-2C, Padma Homeo Clinic, Thevar Colony, Narayanapuram, New Natham Rd, Madurai
Chain Analysis

Chain analysis- a handy tool for positive behavioural change

Voila! Nailed it! 

How many times have we felt a sense of accomplishment and pride for pulling off a tough project, after leveraging our problem-solving skills in achieving our goal? Oh…! the pleasant feeling of relief and peace, especially, if the problem had seemed insurmountable and an exasperating one, to begin with. After struggling with the problem for quite some time, juggling with many choices, an insightful thought or idea would have given us a novel strategy to combine the known with the unknown and weave together a creative solution.

 We have learned many new skills in resolving everyday problems through such complex behavioural tasks. Neuroscience findings reveal that new neural networks are forged in our brains, whenever we carry out such elaborate behaviours to creatively solve our hassles. After many such incidents new habits are formed and neuronal connections are etched in our brains. 

 On the other hand, when we fail to engage our logical reason-gifted mind and impulsively react to stressful situations with inappropriate emotional behaviours, we experience feelings of regret and desperation for missed chances and spoilt plans. We could not believe that we had behaved in an immature way, without consideration for the consequences on oneself and others. Sometimes we may blame the situation or others, or our vulnerability for our mindless behaviours. This might ease our conscience momentarily. Nevertheless, this perspective will not provide a lasting solution for dealing with such situations and problems in the future. We would be repeating the same ineffective behaviour and getting the same results ad nauseam

 Alternatively, we can seek help from Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), a mindfulness-based behaviour therapy which focuses on emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance to facilitate positive changes to build a life worth living. 

DBT utilizes a simple behaviour analysis method to teach, especially adolescents, to look back into the happenings which led to a problem behaviour, and how they can prevent them from happening again in the future. 

 Sanjay is a final year engineering student, with difficulties in controlling his impulses and engaging in frequent violent confrontations with friends, peers, faculties, or family members. This happens especially when he is drunk or if we had an alcohol binge the previous night. The college administration has taken complaints of his fights and physically harming others seriously and threatened to expel him from college unless he corrects himself quickly. He underwent therapy utilizing DBT for his problem. His therapist coaches him, among other things, to analyse the chain of events which leads him to his problematic behaviour viz. Angry outbursts and fights. There are certain steps which the DBT therapist guides Sanjay, one by one, to walk through the sequences of events starting from things which increases his vulnerabilities and actual problematic behaviour and its consequences on himself and others. His therapist (see Figure 1) uses a visual chain analysis tool for this process.


                 Figure 1


The first step in this process is to identify the problem behaviour, which is the angry outburst and physically hurting others in Sanjay’s case. At the outset, we try to understand whether the perceived problem behaviour serves any useful function for Sanjay or his significant others. 

The functional analysis of the problem behaviour is assisted by the freely chosen and committed values of the person and his context. For e.g. if Sanjay was a soldier committed to giving his best and proud of working in the army and if his anger helps him to mobilise his energy or motivation to engage in combat in conflicts. Then, his anger has a useful function in his context and serves his values. But he is a student studying in a college, who values his academic achievement and aspires to be an aeronautical engineer. In this context his behaviour is problematic and should be dealt with appropriately. 

 The next step is to identify the prompting event and the vital links in his settings which leads him to engage in the target behaviour. We further explore, “What made Sanjay vulnerable to act on the prompting event and react impulsively?” We try to find out whether he was drunk while engaging in the behaviour or the night before. Or did he have a good sleep, was he sick and tired, had a tough day, missed his meals, already upset with something else or other stressors. DBT emphasizes that all these factors can make him vulnerable to act impulsively. Sanjay is given feedback on how these vulnerabilities could be minimised by simple self-care approaches. This will significantly reduce the chances of Sanjay responding in value-incongruent way in the future. 

 Then the therapist probes Sanjay as to what were exactly the physical sensations, thoughts, emotions, and action urges he felt immediately before he behaved angrily. The therapist provides insights through experiential exercises to recognise the sensations and the emotions associated with them. He proceeds further to practise naming and describing the emotions and understand that these sensations in the body are messengers from his mind and body to inform his psychological distress. And he has a choice how he responds to this information.

Could he have thought, felt, or acted differently at that point?

What were the choices available to him at that moment before he acted on his impulse? 

 This is the vital step in the whole process. The ability to be in the present moment with awareness and flexibly engage in behaviours contingent to our values/goals and environmental requirements is a distinctively human attribute and has helped our species scale phenomenal heights during our evolutionary growth and development. Strangely, technological advancements have not helped our minds, sometimes, to be mindful of our actions and consequences. These are the moments when we react impulsively, and crucial errors are committed and even blunders endangering lives happen.  

The next step is to ask Sanjay to explain the consequences of his behaviour.

 “How did other people react immediately and later?” 

“How did you feel immediately following the behaviour? Later?”

“What effect did the behaviour have on you and your significant others?”

“Were these consequences in alignment with his values?”

How will this affect his career goals, which he holds dear?

Through the gentle exploration into the behavioural consequences of his problem behaviour on his or her valued goals, the therapist creates awareness of dialectics of interpersonal relationships. One must accept the realities of conflicts in a relationship and at the same time attempt to change the way this relationship will evolve with time. The client realizes the importance of walking the middle path of acceptance and change. 

 Dialectical behaviour therapy teaches clients during individual sessions and group settings basic mindfulness skills to deal with the complexities of life and how to respond with poise and dignity. We can contrast mindfulness with automatic, habitual, or rote behaviour and activity. Sanjay is taught mindfulness skills to deal with such situations in the future and respond skilfully rather than impulsively by habit. The more he engages in skilful behaviours the more chances are of it becoming a habit for life.

 We can take vital cues from this whole behaviour chain analysis to look back on our moments of errors and seek to rectify the unskilful behaviours with skilful ones. The chain analysis provides a ready-made tool for quickly assessing our mistakes and probe with queries like, what went wrong? Why did it go wrong? What factors set it up and triggered it? What were the consequences and how to correct it? This analysis ultimately gives us useful insights to understand our maladaptive behaviour patterns and act skilfully to avoid repeating the mistakes. So, why cannot use it in our everyday life to build a life worth living. Finally, we should remember that this entire chain analysis process rests firmly on the foundation of mindfulness.