Applied Psychology

Science is a body of knowledge that relies on testable predictions and explanations of phenomenon. Some of its characteristics include the ability to verify data, use of factual evidence when making findings on an issue.  Applied behavioral science is the application of scientific principles to evaluate human behavior and resolve problems in society. The case study on Michael is relevant to behavioral psychology which seeks to explain human behavior as being a product of conditioning through interaction with the environment. This paper will apply the classical conditioning theory to evaluate the issues Michael is facing from a psychological perspective to develop an insight on the steps that a therapist or counselor should undertake to help him attain healing. 

Potential Causes of the Issue

The main potential causes of the issue are environmental and social, as well as biological. Michael suffers from withdrawal symptoms due to biological influences on his body. Once he takes heroin, it triggers the brain to release dopamine, which makes him have a good feeling. However, when the heroin wears off from the body, it goes into distress seeking additional heroin intake. The brain manifests the desire for heroin through creating withdrawal symptoms that Michael is experiencing. This is the main reason why his heart rate and blood pressure is elevated and he has a running nose and dilated pupils. If the consumes more heroin, then these symptoms will cease until the heroin wears off again. 

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Moreover, there are also certain social and environmental causes of Michael’s behavior. Specifically, research has shown that drug addiction is primarily influenced by the environment where one grows up in. Moreover, people who experience abuse while growing up, are at higher risk of using drugs such as heroin, as a means of alleviating the psychological distress they are experiencing. Michael’s behavior is also explained by social factors, and specifically, a person’s social circle and friends. This means that people who grow up in an environment where addiction is common, are likely to also become addicts. Moreover, people whose social circle has drug addicts are also likely to be tempted to use drugs due to peer pressure. It is highly likely that these influences have a direct bearing on Michael’s addictive behavior and they can explain why he is an addict. 

Application of the Classical Conditioning Theory to the Case Study

The classical conditioning theory was developed by Pavlov in 1897. According to the theory, classical conditioning occurs when an unconditioned stimulus (biologically-potent stimulus) and a conditioned stimulus (neural stimulus) are paired to create a reflex response (Kirsch et al., 2004). Over time, biological agents including humans can be conditioned to exhibit the reflex response even when the conditioned stimulus is presented by itself.  An example is when an unconditioned stimulus (the taste of food), is paired with a conditioned stimulus (sound of a spoon), to elicit a reflex response (salivation). Over time, humans may be conditioned to elicit salivation, if they hear the sound of a spoon, even in absence of food. Pavlov developed the theory after studying dogs and he realized that they salivated when they saw the person who feeds them, even in the absence of food (Chan & Harris, 2017).  This theory has been applied in understanding human behavior, through use of rewards to encourage desirable behavior and use of punishment to discourage undesirable behavior. 

The classical conditioning theory can be applied to the case study where Michael craves ‘meds’ to counter the withdrawal symptoms he is facing due to heroin addiction. In this case, Michael, just as many drug addicts do, lives in a social environment that has conditioned his brain to heroin use.  He has paired his social environment (conditional/neural stimulus) with heroin use (unconditioned/biologically-potent stimulus), such that even in the absence of heroin, he experiences cravings as long as he is in his social environment. This means that for Michael to relieve the symptoms of addiction, he needs to disassociate himself from his social environment, including his fellow drug addicts. This is one of the main reasons that addicts are committed to rehabilitation facilities since the conditional stimulus that triggers drug cravings is absent.  Michael needs to break the paired stimulus (social environment and heroin use) through committing himself to rehabilitation so that he stays away from social influences that will lead to drug use. 

Scientific Research that is Relevant to the Case Study

Research by Silverman (2004) applied the conditioning theory to the treatment of cocaine addiction. The research applied the reinforcement contingency theory where patients are rewarded with vouchers for giving urine samples that are free from cocaine. The findings revealed that this strategy was successful in reducing relapse among cocaine addicts.  A different research by Higgins et al (1991) that involved content analysis on the use of conditioning to address substance abuse revealed that 85% of the studies reported at least one positive outcome within the target population. More recent research by Volkow et al. (2011) revealed that conditioning helps in reducing the dopamine reward in the brain among addicts.  These researches have revealed consistent findings and there are no changes that have been documented on the issue at present. 

Identify and describe any relevant trends in working with your intended population.

When working with patients who are addicted to substances, one of the modern trends is the use of psychotherapy on patients and their social support system. According to Jensen at al., (2011), therapists have realized the importance of incorporating family members and other support systems of drug addicts, as this is important in reducing the risk of relapse. When close family members are involved in the therapy process, they are likely to understand the issues facing the drug addict and will provide social and other forms of support needed for him/her to attain healing.  According to Arndt et al. (2011), another emerging trend is focus on the older population that is addicted to substances. There are many addicts who embrace the habit at older ages and previous research did not focus on the vulnerable geriatric population. 

Plan of action for moving forward

In addressing Michael’s needs the first step should be to locate his family members and involve them in the issue. Involving them is beneficial to Michael as he may be convinced to accept to join a rehabilitation facility so that he can quit addiction. If he accepts rehabilitation, a combination of therapy and medical interventions by a multidisciplinary team will help him overcome addiction and attain healing (Jensen et al., 2011). It is important to involve the family during this process so that they provide the necessary social support that he needs to quit heroin use. Moreover, Michael cannot be forced to rehabilitate himself unless he is a danger to the community. If he declines to accept rehabilitation, then the therapist or counselor cannot help him. He will likely experience a low quality of life that may end in death from overdose or the numerous health and social complications associated with heroin use. 

What I would do to Build Rapport with the Clients in the Case Study.

To build rapport, it is essential to develop a trust relationship with the client so that he/she may have confidence in the counselor or therapist and open up to discuss his/her issues.  One of the most effective strategies is the use of active listening, where the therapist listens to the client while guiding the direction of the conversation (Antai-Otong, 2017). It is important to avoid any bias or persona judgment when talking to a client such as Michael, as this will discourage him from sharing his issues. It is also important to be respectful to the client and to focus on small successes that encourage hi/her to embrace behavioral change. Finally, therapists should be professional at all times and observe ethical principles such as confidentiality to encourage clients to share their issues in a safe space. 

Ethical Considerations that are Relevant to this Case

The first ethical consideration is informed consent, and healthcare professionals should seek the consent of the client before administering any medical assistance unless in cases of emergency and the client is incapacitated (Antai-Otong, 2017). In this case, Michael is a drug addict and he may or may not accept professional help. As a professional, the therapist or counsellor cannot force Michael to undergo rehabilitation, as this contravenes the informed consent principle. If Michael declines help, the counsellor/therapist cannot assist him.  Another issue is confidentiality, and if Michael agrees to be rehabilitated, then the issues he discusses with the therapist should be protected. However, in case Michael is planning to commit an offence, or someone’s life or safety is at risk, then the therapist should breach confidentiality and inform law enforcers (Antai-Otong, 2017). 


Based on the classical conditioning theory, it is clear that Michael’s problems can be resolved through isolating himself from the social environment that motivates him to use heroin.  Research has shown that the operant conditioning theory is applicable to the situation facing Michael, and he should join a rehabilitation program where stimuli that support drug use will be eliminated. A therapist or counsellor may use psychotherapy to help Michael achieve healing. It is important to involve his family in the process so that he can have the social supports he needs to quit addiction. However, he needs to willingly commit to rehabilitation as the therapist cannot force him to be rehabilitated since this would be a breach of the principle of informed consent. 



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Thompson Delmar Learning 

Arndt, S., Clayton, R. & Schultz, S. K. (2011). “Trends in substance abuse treatment 1998-

2008: increasing older adult first-time admissions for illicit drugs.” American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2011 Aug;19(8):704-11. Doi 10.1097/JGP.0b013e31820d942b.

Chan, C. K. & Harris, J. A. (2017). “Extinction of Pavlovian conditioning: The influence of 

trial number and reinforcement history”. Behavioural Processes 141 (Pt 1): 19–25. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2017.04.017

Higgins, S. T, & Silverman, K. (1999).Motivating behavior change among illicit drug 

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(2011). “Effectiveness of motivational interviewing interventions for adolescent substance use behavior change: A meta-analytic review”. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 79 (4): 433–440. doi:10.1037/a0023992

Kirsch, I., S. J., Vigorito, M. & Miller, R. R. (2004). “The role of cognition in classical and 

operant conditioning”. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 60 (4): 369–92. doi:10.1002/jclp.10251

Silverman K. (2004). “Exploring the limits and utility of operant conditioning in the 

treatment of drug addiction”. The Behavior analyst, 27(2), 209-30. Retrieved from

Volkow, N. D., wang, G., Fowler, J. S., Tomasi, D. & telang, F. (2011). “Addiction: Beyond 

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