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How To Do a Chain Analysis to Change Problem Behaviors


Updated June 19, 2014

It can be important for a person with PTSD to learn how to do a chain analysis. People with PTSD can develop a number of problem behaviors. However, it is important to recognize that these problem behaviors develop for a reason. They are serving some kind of function, often times helping someone avoid or escape distress.

A chain analysis can help you identify why you are engaging in certain problem behaviors. It will help you figure out all the things that can contribute to a problem behavior, and in doing so, a chain analysis can give you insight into how to change a problem behavior.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 15 to 20 Minutes

Here's How:

  1. The first step is to identify the behavior that you want to change. For example, do you want to stop engaging in deliberate self-harm behavior? Self-medication through alcohol? Binge eating? Try to identify a behavior that is causing problems for you in your life.

  2. Next, think about what happened prior to you engaging in the problem behavior. What were you doing? What was going on around you? Were you in an argument? Did you have a memory of your traumatic event triggered? Basically, you want to identify the event or situation that served as the starting point for your problem behavior.

  3. Now, identify what kinds of thoughts were brought up by the situation or event you came up with in Step 2. How did you evaluate the situation or yourself in that situation? Did you engage in catastrophic or all-or-none thinking?

  4. Think about what emotions you were having as a result of that situation. Try your best to list as many emotions as you possibly can, such as fear, sadness, anger, shame, guilt, embarrassment, or dread.

  5. Pay attention to what you felt in your body. Try to recognize and label all the sensations that came up. For example, did you experience shortness of breath? Muscle tension? An increased heart rate? Think about how your body reacted to the situation you identified in Step 2.

  6. Next, list off what your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations made you want to do. That is, did they make you want to escape the situation or do something to make those feelings stop? Did you feel a need to engage in your problem behavior?

  7. Finally, think about consequences of engaging in your problem behavior. Did you feel better afterwards? Did you feel disappointed in yourself? Ashamed? Try to list off as many consequences (both positive and negative) as you can.


  1. It can be helpful to go through a chain analysis soon after you engage in a problem behavior. This way, your experience is fresh in your mind and you will likely be able to remember more information about the factors that led up to your problem behavior.

  2. It might also be helpful to identify what things might have made you more susceptible to responding to the situation as you did. For example, when people do not eat well or do not get enough sleep, they may be more susceptible to experiencing negative moods or having more reactive emotional experiences.

  3. Behaviors can serve multiple functions. Therefore, go through a chain analysis for a number of different situations that led to a problem behavior and try to identify all the functions a problem behavior serves for you.

  4. After you go through the chain analysis, come up with different coping strategies that you could use at each stage. In addition to identifying the function a problem behavior serves, it is also incredibly important to figure out how to "break the chain" through the use of healthier coping strategies.


    Linehan, M.M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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