Behavior Analysis in Practice

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 14–24 | Cite as

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Individuals with Disabilities: A Behavior Analytic Strategy for Addressing Private Events in Challenging Behavior

  • Audrey N. Hoffmann
  • Bethany P. Contreras
  • Casey J. Clay
  • Michael P. Twohig
Discussion and Review Paper


Applied behavior analysts work with many populations including individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Although behavior analysts have a variety of empirically supported treatments to implement when working with individuals with disabilities, sometimes, other variables may adversely impact treatment effectiveness. The degree to which problematic thoughts and feelings (private events) influence behavior may be a variable that contributes to treatment efficacy. Traditional behavior analytic services are not always equipped to successfully address the private events influencing client behavior. In such cases, it may be beneficial for behavior analysts to consider additional philosophically aligned treatments for private events. One such treatment, acceptance and commitment therapy, may be a useful tool for behavior analysts to incorporate into their toolbox in order to help clients. The purpose of this paper is to introduce behavior analysts to a potential solution to the problem of effectively addressing private events in behavior analytic services. We then propose a model for thinking about private events in relation to clients with disabilities and present a guide for taking steps to address private events in the clinical setting. We conclude this paper with a call for research and present a possible research agenda for behavior analysts.


Acceptance and commitment therapy ACT Applied behavior analysis Intellectual and developmental disabilities Problem behavior 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Association for Behavior Analysis International 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Special Education and RehabilitationUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUtah State UniversityLoganUSA

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