Ronnie Detrich

Interview conducted by Annie Galizio

Ronnie Detrich is a Senior Fellow at the Wing Institute, a non-profit foundation with the mission of promoting evidence-based practices in education. Prior to joining the Wing Institute, he was Clinical Director large non-public school for students with significant behavioral challenges for 20 years. He has been providing services for children and youth since 1967. During that time, he has served as a direct service provider as well as director of programs such as a statewide autism program in South Dakota and a residential treatment program for adjudicated adolescents in West Virginia. All of his work has been characterized by implementing evidence informed programs and data-based decision making. Most recently, his work has focused the role of evidence-based practice in education reform, the implications of evidence-based practice as a decision-making process, methods for assuring high levels of treatment integrity at scales of social importance, and the dissemination of and actual implementation of effective programs. He is a Trustee of the Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies, has served as the Coordinator of the Practice Board for the Association for Behavior Analysis International, and is on the editorial board for the several peer reviewed journals.

How were you drawn to the field of behavior analysis?

Ronnie “came of age in the 60s and was very active in social activism. I was exploring utopian literatures in college and came across Walden Two, which really got me excited about the organized community laid out in the book. I went back and started reading more Skinner.” There were no behaviorists in my department at El Paso though; everyone was very Freudian. So I transferred to North Texas and I wrote the first behavior modification thesis at North Texas. My mentor was Don Whaley, and he was very influential in my life. Now behavior analysis has informed every aspect of my life, my worldview. It governs everything that I do.

What do you feel is your most important accomplishment and why?

Ronnie’s internship after North Texas involved working for a social worker who was looking for a behavior therapist in Michigan. It was an “amazing experience.” The internship involved “school based intervention and parent training, primarily. It was amazing to find a social worker familiar with and looking for behavior analytic techniques during a time when behavior analysis was not widely accepted and often condemned.” Ronnie later went on to be Clinical Director at Spectrum Center Schools in California, grounded in data based decision making and behavior analysis. Ronnie considers these schools to be his greatest achievement.

What do you think behavior analysts should be doing more of?

Behavior analysts should work on “speaking to a broader audience in ways that the audience is receptive to and finding ways to disseminate and tell our story more effectively.”

What advice do you have for people just entering the field of behavior analysis? 

Be a generalist. Don’t just specialize in one area.” Applied behavior analysts should keep up with the experimental literature, even if it doesn’t seem immediately relevant. Similarly, experimental behavior analysts should be aware of applied research. Only by maintaining a dialogue can behavior analysts become aware of basic phenomena that could be applied in clinical situations or phenomena that are not replicated in applied settings and must be reexamined in the laboratory. “Read widely, even outside of behavior analysis.”