Behavior Modification vs. The Heart

The Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders defines Behavior Modification as “a treatment approach, based on the principles of operant conditioning, that replaces undesirable behaviors with more desirable ones through positive and negative reinforcement.” This method of behavioral treatment is used often in special education. In most of my classes right now I am learning how to practice and use this type of treatment in a classroom. It is a great method used to adapt and change behavior in students of all ages and disabilities.  So far, I am definitely a believer in using behavior modification to train a student in the appropriate ways to act. But is this method of behavior change really enough? Is it sufficient to just adjust the outward actions of an individual?

Paul Tripp wrote in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand, that “the heart is the essential core of who you are… It is not enough to alter my behavior or to change my circumstances. Christ transforms people by radically changing their hearts.” Individual’s with disabilities are the same as each of us; none of our actions can be deeply changed by just Behavior Modification. The heart must be changed for there to be true transformation in our lives. This heart change can only come from God alone.

As a teacher one day, I will be using Behavior Modification in my classroom to best facilitate a calm and appropriate atmosphere for my students. Yet, I will be unable to always get exactly to the heart issues of many behaviors and helps my students touched by disability work through their core responses. This is a perfect opportunity for the church to step in. As the body of Christ, we can encourage everyone including individuals touched by disability to examine our own hearts and roots of our actions.  We can move beyond even Behavior Modification.  Through special needs ministry, we have a chance to really share the gospel and promote pure heart change that can transform outward behavior. This chance to bring hope into hearts is incredible! My prayer is that we would begin to see the difference between just Behavior Modification and true heart change, and that as the body of Christ we would run with this awesome opportunity.

“The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7b

5 thoughts on “Behavior Modification vs. The Heart

  1. Nice article Victoria. I agree completely that behavior modification alone is not enough. Christian love and acceptance play a major role in any true behavior modification. I know the students you have in the future will be very blessed to have you as a teacher.

  2. Ijust love this Victoria. This is something I constantly fight with in my own life…..just changing my behavior or a true heart change from Jesus himself that results in a change of my actions. What a gift from God that you have learned this so young!! We love all the Kwasnys.

    Cindy Lee

  3. Great article and I totally agree. I have seen God work in the members of our special needs ministry. Behavior change does comes from inside.We, the Church,are His instruments to point those in our care to the One that gives hope. I am so proud of you, sweet girl. God gave you an awesome heart! I am glad to see you are using your gifts for His Glory.


  4. Great post! You have a beautiful way of expressing the heart of God. Thank you for sharing with us all.


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