Functional analysis essentially involves understanding the
function, purpose and place of the substance use in the client’s life.

Godley et al (2001) describe the dual purpose of the Functional Analysis as determining the triggers (thoughts, feeling, circumstances) of the young person’s substance use, and the positive and negative consequences (immediate and longer term) that they can identify.  The authors make clear that the information gleaned from this process should never be used in a confrontational manner.

The Functional Analysis identifies the factors (e.g. people, places, events) that lead up to the substance using behaviour including triggers such as people, places, thoughts and feelings. The consequences that result from the behaviour, both positive and negative as well as immediate and long-term are also identified (Godley, Meyers, et al., 2001). This part of the process encourages the young person to discuss the good things about the substance use as well as what they don’t like, which positions the practitioner as being ‘alongside’ the young person and is neutral in judgement.

In contrast to diagnostic assessment, functional analysis has been the traditional strategy linking behavioural assessment and treatment. It is a structured way to find out more about a young person’s substance use with them. In a traditional behavioural functional analysis, environmental variables that are hypothesised to control the target or problem behaviour are identified then targeted for change in the treatment (Dobson & Dobson, 2009; p15-16). The ACRA approach to functional analysis goes further by identifying possible positive and negative reinforcers.

The functional analysis is completed with the young person, who should understand the meaning and purpose of each question.

Once the Functional Analysis has been completed it may be possible to reflect with the young person about the process and find out if they were surprised by any of their answers. This too may provide useful insights to include in the functional analysis of prosocial behaviours and the process of goal setting.

Example of the Functional Analysis tool