Behavioral interview: what is it and what is it for in psychology

Behavioral interviewing is an investigative and information-gathering technique used in clinical psychology and psychological treatment..

It is a tool based on scientific principles and necessary to apply at the beginning of the therapeutic process to know which are the problematic situations and behaviors of the patient which need to be addressed and modified.

In this article, we explain what behavioral interviewing is, what its goals are, and other interesting details.

Behavioral assessment in psychology

Behavioral assessment in psychology, and in particular in cognitive-behavioral therapies, is a paradigm that has emerged as an alternative to traditional assessment based on unobservable phenomena and abstract constructions, more typical of the psychodynamic approach. psychology over the last century.

Treatment based on a behavioral approach affects observable behavior and manifests itself as an axis of evaluation and subsequent psychological treatment. Although secret variables are not excluded, they are not considered to have a direct influence on a person’s behavior. This type of assessment is therefore based on scientific principles and assumptions that can be validated by inquiry and inference, with methods such as behavioral interviewing and other techniques.

In order to carry out a behavioral assessment, different methods and procedures can be used, in order to detect problematic behaviors and their parameters (context, mediating and moderating variables, consequences, etc.). One way to reduce pollution and errors during the assessment process is to use multiple assessment tools and information sources (colleagues, family, friends, etc.).

Among the most widely used assessment tools are: behavioral observation, cognitive-behavioral assessment, psychophysiological assessment and behavioral interview, which we will discuss in more detail below.

Behavioral interview: definition and objectives

The behavioral interview is an assessment tool designed to collect information on patient requests and relevant parameters of problematic situations and behaviors. Although it has a maintenance format, it can also be used on a self-administered basis.

The application of behavioral interview must meet the objectives:

  • Offer the patient an explanation of what will be done during the interview, why detailed and specific information about their specific problems, situations and behaviors is needed.

  • Identify the parameters of the problematic behaviors, as well as their frequency, intensity and duration (for example, how often does this happen ?, How long has it been happening?).

  • Identify problematic behaviors and define them in terms of behavior, objectively and precisely (e.g. what exactly is going on in this area ?, what is not working in your job?).

  • Determine the context for the occurrence and non-occurrence of the problematic behavior (e.g., what happened before it happened ?, What did you think before you realized it?) .

  • Determine the consequences of the problematic behavior (for example, what happened right after ?, How did you feel as soon as you finished the behavior?).

  • Identify the patient’s resources and strengths.

  • Size up relevant behaviors, like knowing who or when to sign up.

  • At the end, summarize and assess whether the interviewee has understood the whole process and agrees.

Phases and application process

In order to properly conduct a behavioral interview, a series of specific steps and guidelines must be followed.. First, the general objective of the interview must be established and the patient’s current functioning must be studied in order to identify the existence of maladaptive and inappropriate behaviors in one or more contexts.

Sometimes in this first phase it may happen that the interviewer focuses too much on the subject’s story; and although understanding the origin and genesis of problems may provide additional knowledge, the really important information is what is current and what the patient is providing in the present moment.

In order to be able to satisfactorily assess all problematic behaviors, it is necessary to try to make a description as precise as possible, always including the parameters of frequency, intensity and duration in relation to the different situations in which they occur, as it will make it easier for the clinician throughout the behavioral interview to determine whether these behaviors are a problem for being deficient or for occurring in excess. . Normally, if the patient has no previous experience with cognitive behavioral therapy, they may have difficulty identifying and responding to questions that involve differentiating and distinguishing between thoughts, emotional states, behaviors and physiological responses, all organized into a behavioral structure. However, the task of the professional is also to educate the patient to discriminate between different levels of behavior.

During the behavioral interview, it is important for the clinician to help the patient operationalize behavioral traits, attitudes and moods; that is to say that it is a question of carrying out concrete, objective and precise descriptions in order to subsequently be able to intervene on the variables of effective form.

Finally, one should not forget to collect information about the process of generalization that the problematic behavior has had in other areas of the patient’s life. This can lead to a more in-depth analysis of certain environments (work, school, home, etc.) in which to intervene.. At the end of the interview, the clinician will provide a conceptualization of the problem, detail the intervention strategies to be followed, as well as a rough estimate of the duration of treatment.

An example of behavioral interview

Here are some of the most common questions in a typical behavioral interview:

  • Describe in detail the reason for your request.

  • Describe as best as possible what is happening to you (how you feel, what you think, what you think about the problem that brings you here).

  • Specify the last time the problem occurred to you (what, how, where and when).

  • In general, how often does the problem happen to you? How long is it? How intensely does this occur (on a scale of 1 [nada] a 5 [mucho])?

  • How do you think the problem that brings you here affects you in your day-to-day life?

  • Does the problem arise in specific situations? Please describe which (characteristics of the situation, people present, what happens before and after, etc.).

  • Tell me more about the history of the problem, when did these protests start?

  • Specify what, when, where and how it happened to you when they first appeared, and under what circumstances.

  • Has the problem worsened since then? Is it maintained at the same intensity? Is it more intense? Less?

  • Have you ever asked for help? If so, with which professionals, which treatments and on which dates.

  • Finally, what do you think your problem is due to?

Bibliographical references:

  • Cavall, VE, Buela-Casal, G., and Serra, JC (1996). Manual of evaluation in clinical and health psychology. 21st century Spanish publishers.

  • Edelstein, BA and Yoman, J. (1991). Behavioral interview. In VE Cavall (Comp.), Handbook of Behavior Therapy and Modification Techniques (pp. 751-775). Madrid: 21st century

  • Fernández, M. Á. R., García, MID and Crespo, AV (2012). Manual of cognitive-behavioral intervention techniques. Desclée de Brouwer.

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