Also known as behavioural analysis, chain analysis is a change-based strategy.

Chain analysis involves defining a problem and determining empirically what is causing it,
what is preventing its resolution, and what tools are available for solving it.

The first step is to help the client to identify the problem to be analysed and to describe it precisely in behavioural terms. This usually evolves from discussion of events in the past few days. It is helpful if the core or focal problem can be defined in terms of a specific behaviour of the client that tends to lead to negative consequences. Alternatively it may be an incident that the client wishes to avoid in the future.

The second step, the chain-analysis itself, is an exhaustive blow-by-blow description of the chain of events leading up to and following the core problem behaviour or incident (i.e. antecedents and consequences).

Miller et al (2007) suggest four questions or issues to bear in mind while the chain analysis is conducted (p62):

Chains of reinforcement - Are ineffective behaviours being reinforced, are effective behaviours followed by aversive events, or are rewarding outcomes delayed?

Skills – Does the client have the requisite skills to regulate emotions, respond skilfully to conflict, and manage his or her own behaviour?

Avoidance – Are there patterns of avoidance or are effective behaviours inhibited by unwarranted fears and guilt?

Awareness of contingencies – Is the client unaware of contingencies operating in the environment, or are effective behaviours inhibited by faulty beliefs and assumptions?

Answers to these questions will guide the choice of change strategies. For example if it is found that the client does not possess certain skills that might be useful, it is appropriate to offer to teach those skills. But there is no point in teaching skills if a client already possesses them, and is not using them because there is no clear incentive or s/he is stuck in avoidance. Avoid the automatic assumption that a client lacks skills. There may be factors operating to prevent him from using skills that he possesses.

Chain analysis can help the practitioner and client gain a perspective on several factors that may be working in specific contexts to maintain problem behaviours, or prevent the use of skill-based strategies. 

Discussing the chain of events leading to dysfunctional behaviours may also help the client to recognise the patterns that lead to problems earlier so that new skills can be employed in a timely manner (Lynch, et al., 2006) (p470).

These notes are based on Miller, Rathus and Linehan (2007) unless otherwise stated.