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The Layperson’s Guide to Behavior Chain Analysis

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways:

  • Behavior chain analysis is a therapy modality that addresses problem behaviors.
  • It treats mental issues such as PTSD, BPD, and bipolar disorder.
  • Cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy uses behavior analysis in treatment.
  • It is a safe and effective way to confront problem behavior on your own.

No one is always 100% happy with their words and actions. We all make mistakes and disappoint ourselves occasionally – but we can turn this into a valuable learning experience by using behavior chain analysis to determine how maladaptive behaviors come to exist. 

Behavior chains are necessary to make life livable. They are the tasks and actions that comprise your everyday routine. Everything we do – brushing our teeth, getting dressed, making coffee – is a set of functions we’ve turned into daily behavior. Behavior chains allow us to function without consciously thinking through every step of a complicated behavior. Analyzing them gives us a great deal of helpful information.

This guide explains the concept of behavior chain analysis, some of the most valuable benefits, and how to use it to identify and stop harmful behavior.

Behavior Chain Analysis

Behavior chain analysis, also called functional analysis, is a therapeutic modality that helps people identify, understand, and eradicate disruptive behavior. It is used in behavior therapy for the treatment of many mental health issues, such as:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Substance use disorder

This process also reveals the function of a particular problem behavior. It could be to avoid stress or escape an uncomfortable situation. These insights make the necessary actions for change more apparent.


Some people will, in many cases, try to change their behavior without fully grasping what is causing it. Behaviors typically serve more than one purpose. Analysis is a valuable tool that can tell you a lot about them, including:

The Why

Many people don’t realize that behaviors develop because of some external stimulus. Problem behaviors exist to deal with some of those tricky situations. A person with PTSD may be rude and aggressive to strangers in crowded conditions to cope with high anxiety, for instance. 

The Triggers

Triggers are painful sensory reminders of previous traumatic incidents. They can cause physical issues such as nausea, headaches, and body aches, and in some cases, they are accompanied by flashbacks. Triggers can be anything from a scent or sound to someone else’s attitude, expression, or comments.  

The Solution

Analyzing a behavior shows you what the solution might look like from several different angles. Study the behavior’s various functions and triggers, and you’ll find a few ways to deal with it. 

Looking into why we do what we do is scary and confusing. The primary benefit of behavior chain analysis is its ability to address problem behavior in a manageable and unthreatening manner. 

How to Perform a Behavior Chain Analysis

Behavior chain analysis can be a helpful tool when a person is addressing specific problem behaviors. The first crucial step is understanding that results take time and effort. Then move forward as follows:

Choose What to Analyze

Identify a behavior that causes problems in your life that you don’t want to participate in anymore. Choose something that negatively impacts you or serves no good purpose. This could be something like overindulging in alcohol or spending too much shopping online. 

Identify the Chain Links 

Think back to what happened just before you participated in the problem behavior. Ask yourself how you felt after that event. Observe any relationship you may see between the problem behavior and this incident. The objective is to identify the starting point for the problem behavior.

Detect Environmental Vulnerabilities

Environmental agents and circumstances can trigger problem behavior. The places you go and what you see and hear there can be part of the problem. Ask yourself what things in the environment made you feel vulnerable or susceptible to danger. 

Recognize Thought Patterns

The next step is to recognize the thought that connected the inciting incident to the next action you took – the problem behavior. Decide if your thoughts were “catastrophic” or all-or-none thinking. Recall how you evaluated the incident at that moment and if it seems correct now.

Discerning the thought patterns that led up to the behavior is crucial because it allows you to look for ways to change those contrary thoughts.

Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Everything you could have done during an uncomfortable situation is always clearer when it’s over, and you’ve had time to think. That’s how solutions are born: thinking back over the situation and finding the coping mechanisms and other tools you could’ve used to get through it without exhibiting the problem behavior.

Writing down your thoughts along the way makes it easier to find your solutions. Use all the information you’ve gathered – your thoughts, feelings, and reactions – to recap the incident and devise a game plan to curb the worst behaviors. 

People can use this method as a self-help strategy on their own or do it with the help of a therapist during cognitive or dialectical behavioral therapy. It’s a safe and effective way to confront problem behavior and improve your life. 

Learn More About Behavior Chain Analysis and How It Can Help You Now

Behavior chain analysis works. It’s time to try it, especially if your behavior has caused problems your entire life. This helpful activity is a valuable tool in your mental health toolbox. The Counseling Center Group™ can help you learn how to control your emotions and change your behaviors. We provide therapies for groups, couples, individuals, and families. 

The Counseling Center Group is dedicated to helping you live a life you love. We are committed to providing relatively short-term treatments to achieve positive, long-lasting results. Our therapists use structured, evidence-based methods to help you reach realistic goals efficiently – to learn more about therapy in general, contact us today. 

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