How Does Contingency Management Work?
Contingency management is a form of therapy based on the behavioral principles of operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, the therapist or researcher pairs a valuable reward with a behavior to increase the frequency of the wanted action. In time, the reward is reduced and stopped, but the desired behavior continues. It works on the belief that people are willing to make significant changes if they are adequately rewarded for their behaviors.
In this form of treatment, the therapist armed with contingency management skills will work with the client and their family to devise a plan that finds rewards for wanted behaviors. A person who engages in prosocial or recovery-focused behaviors will receive a tangible reward for their actions, while someone who engages in unwanted behaviors will receive nothing.
The basis of contingency management is simple, but finding the best combination of rewards and behaviors is challenging. For the best contingency management plan, the treatment team will investigate the core principles of contingency management, including the:
- Target behavior
- Target person or group
- Intensity of the reward
- Frequency of the reward
- Time the reward is given
- Length of treatment plan
All these factors must be working in harmony to create the desired effect. If the reward is not reinforcing enough or the target behavior is too challenging, the person will not be interested in changing
For many years, contingency management has been subjected to countless studies to assess its effectiveness. These studies consistently show contingency management to be a useful therapeutic tool. Studies show that contingency management helps people stay in treatment longer and achieve their treatment goals.
With contingency management being based on the concept of the scientific principles of operant conditioning, it is no surprise the treatment is consistently effective.