Behavior Chain Analysis

The Behavior Chain Analysis, or BCA, is utilized in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and helps the user break down the chain of events that led to a problem behavior to bring more awareness and the ability to apply skills in the future. By breaking down the painstaking details of the process surrounding the problem behavior, the user of the BCA learns to respond instead of react in future situations. The idea is to be able to find places where the chain can be cut so the problem behavior is less likely to happen again.

BCAs are often done in a therapy session with the client in detail so that the client can process an event from the week. However, the client, or anyone else interested in gaining insight into their behaviors, is welcome to complete BCAs during the week on their own once they understand the mechanics of the exercise.

BCAs can also be utilized in residential treatment facilities on the spot after a resident completes an inappropriate behavior. This can be used as a way to process and assess for safety before rejoining the group. BCAs can be done on paper, white boards, verbally, or any other way you see fit.

Breaking it down, we have these basic chain links:

BCA Color

Vulnerability

After identifying what the problem behavior is, the first step is looking at your vulnerabilities. What things made you vulnerable even before the problem behavior arose?

Some things to consider are physical discomfort like illness, pain, fatigue, and hunger. Had you not slept well the night before and were crabby? Did you have a headache or had you skipped breakfast?

Being stressed out is an obvious vulnerability. Maybe that stress stemmed from work, family, or not having enough “you” time. Stresses can also be good things like getting a new job or promotion, moving to a new area, having a baby, or getting a puppy. The environment also plays a huge part in vulnerability, be it noisy, cluttered, or chaotic.

Drug use sets your whole body, mind, and emotions off kilter and becomes a huge vulnerability. Already having strong or out of control emotions and not being in one’s wise mind definitely puts the individual at risk for reactivity as well.

Prompting Event

This is the event, or trigger, that directly led to the problem behavior. What was going on right before the problem behavior?

Links

In this section we want every nitty gritty detail and every link between the prompting event and the problem behavior, no matter how small. How did you react to the prompting event? How did you feel about it? What emotions were present? What thoughts did you have? How did your beliefs and values play a part in your thoughts and emotions? How did your body react? Was it tense or did your heart start racing? Did you or anyone else around you do anything else before the problem behavior happened?

Get very specific here. Write out exactly what your thoughts were (“he’s an idiot” or “I’m useless” or instance). Rate your emotions on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the strongest. Write the chain links out in order and in minute detail. What thought, emotion, or action occurred right after the prompting event? What right after that? And what right after that? For every link, ask if it could be broken down even smaller.

Problem Behavior

This is the behavior that is in question. It could be punching a wall, throwing a chair, screaming at someone, cutting, using a drug, missing a therapy appointment, skipping class, or any other problematic target behavior. Generally in a therapy setting, these behaviors are identified in the treatment plan or on the diary card.

Consequences

What are the ramifications of the problem behavior? What are the immediate consequences? What about long term consequences? How will the behavior affect yourself, others, and your environment?

Example Scenario

So an example might be, a teen who has been pressured by his parents to do better in school and is frustrated by getting a poor grade on a test (vulnerabilities) gets accidentally knocked into (prompting event) as he rushes to his next class. He feels like his personal space was violated and is angry that he would get knocked into (2 of many links) and so shoves the student exclaiming, “Watch where you’re f***ing going!” (problem behavior). Because of this, he is called to the principle’s office and faces in school suspension, the judgement of his parents and peers, and feelings of lack of self-worth (consequences).

This teen might have utilized PLEASE  to make sure he is getting enough sleep, eating well, and otherwise taking care of himself and he might want to go home and try DEAR MAN, GIVE, and FAST with his parents to get them off his back. He can use ACCEPTS to distract himself from the poor grade and focus on the present. Maybe he was too distracted by his frustration and wasn’t paying attention to where he was going and could use a little mindfulness.

When he gets knocked into he can use radical acceptance or opposite action to curb his anger and avoid an outburst. Maybe he needs to take a cool down and can ask permission from his teacher to go to the bathroom or other quiet place to use IMPROVE, self-soothe, or to observe his breathing. There are lots of places where skills can be applied to reduce the reactivity of the teen and help him stay in his wise mind.

Free BCA Worksheet Downloads

There are a myriad of BCA worksheets available online from various sources, all designed a little differently. I decided to design my own and you are free to print and use them. The first one is more detailed for teens or adults and the second one is simpler that I use for younger children. Click on the images below and then download or print from there. 

BCA Grid Thumbnail         BCA Rings Thumbnail