Role of the Environment in Prevention and Remediation

Abstract:

The environment, broadly defined, has long concerned clinicians who work with children and families because it impacts prevention and intervention with problems and disorders. In this chapter, we specifically define “environment” as the organization of the individual’s immediate setting in terms of space, time, materials, activities, and people, variables that have received scant attention in the child clinical literature. Operant behavioral and ecological developmental perspectives are presented to describe the processes by which these variables can affect behavior and development, and their relationship to the more distal surroundings of community and culture. Next, we present illustrative research from behavior modification and related literatures which demonstrates that architectural features, spatial divisions, and furnishings; objects, materials, and activities; routines and schedules; and the presence, characteristics, and location of people, affect engagement and modify a wide range of behavior in community settings and homes. Professional psychologists should appreciate the role of the immediate environment in shaping behavior, alone and in conjunction with contingency management and other therapies. They should recognize when a setting must be modified because it is promoting problem behavior or hindering the therapeutic process, and be able to implement changes in the organization of space, time, materials, activities, and people. Changes in the setting may also be effective components of individualized treatment programs, and may be essential for the generalization of treatment effects. Although modifications to the environment cannot usually substitute for contingency management or other therapeutic strategies, they are essential adjuncts and supports to the clinical process, and can contribute to the prevention of dysfunctional and problem behavior.