Who Responds Well To Modeling Behavior?

Updated August 30, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Remember when you were a child and saw something or someone you thought was amazing and perhaps tried to imitate them? Or perhaps as an adult you’ve observed and admired the way someone interacts with the world and have taken inspiration from them. As humans, one of the ways in which we learn is by observing others. These are all examples of types of modeling behavior.

We Sometimes Forget To Tend To Our Emotional Health

A person may serve as a model (consciously or not) that others may learn behaviors from and try to imitate. Modeling behavior can take place in many areas of life and in all different age groups. Modeling can also be technique used in therapy to help people learn to adopt healthier behaviors and avoid unproductive or harmful behaviors.

What Is Modeling In Behavioral Therapy?

Behavior modeling, or, more simply, modeling, is a technique that some therapists use to help their clients with an array of issues. The idea is that learning new behaviors may occur from observing and imitating someone doing those behaviors (a model). While hearing about solutions and talking about them can be helpful, watching techniques actually being used can be another effective way to learn new behaviors.

Behavior can be modeled to show someone how to do something, how to not do something, and how to modify their behaviors to best meet their needs. When people watch an action or behavior being performed, they may learn very effectively and be able to imitate those behaviors and use them when needed. An example of this in day-to-day life would be a child watching an adult turn a doorknob, and through that learning how to open a door themselves. In therapy, an example could be a therapist engaging in positive self-talk to help their client learn how to do so for themselves.

Modeling in therapy may be most effective when it is used in a person-to-person situation or via video tele-therapy so that careful attention can be paid to the details of modeling. The technique can also be used by watching the behavior on television or a smart device, either live or pre-recorded. In some cases, modeling may be even more effective if the model speaks about their thought processes as they’re engaging in the behavior. For instance, if a model is showing how to breathe deeply to reduce stress or anxiety, they might talk through the process, explaining how their chest is rising, how they are breathing in through their nose, etc.

What Is Behavioral Therapy?

Modeling is used in behavior therapy, but what is behavioral therapy? Behavioral therapy is a type of therapy to help people manage mental health disorders or find healthier behaviors. The main idea is that behaviors can be changed. In behavioral therapy, clients work with a therapist to identify and change unhealthy behaviors into healthy ones.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that is very prevalent. In cognitive behavioral therapy, people work with a therapist to change their thought patterns in order to develop healthier thoughts and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in managing a range of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug misuse, relationship challenges, and disordered eating.

The Four Steps Of Modeling

Psychologist Albert Bandura described the concept of observational learning, which uses modeling. He proposed that people can learn through observation. He said that people can still learn from modeling even if they don’t necessarily imitate the model.

Bandura also theorized that for people to effectively learn from modeling, four conditions should be present:

  1. Attention: For a person to learn from a model, they should be attentive to what the model is doing. For instance, people may learn more if they’re alert, rested, and not distracted. Bandura also said they might learn more from people who they view as similar to them or who they feel are prestigious or rewarded for their behavior (such as the way a person might admire a celebrity).
  2. Retention: For a person to learn from modeling or imitate a behavior, they need to remember (retain) what they observed.
  3. Reproduction: For a behavior to take place precisely, a person needs to be able to reproduce it. However, that may not be possible in some cases. For instance, a person who is not very tall or doesn’t currently have the skill to jump very high will likely not be able to imitate a basketball player doing a slam dunk, but they might still try after seeing the behavior—or learn what goes into doing a slam dunk through observation.
  4. Motivation: Bandura’s theory says that for effective learning to take place, the person observing the model may need a reason (a motivation) to learn. They may, for instance, learn best if they have a specific incentive to learn a behavior or if they have observed that a model was somehow rewarded for the behavior.

Modeling can also work to decrease behaviors. For instance, if an observer sees that a model experiences negative consequences for their behavior, they may be less motivated to imitate the behavior.

Who Can Benefit From Modeling?

Many people can benefit from behavior modeling. Just as small children who are growing and learning may copy their parents’ and siblings’ behaviors, people can learn strategies to support their mental health through modeling.

  • Children And Adolescents: By modeling behavior, children and adolescents can learn how to react to situations. These learned behaviors may be used effectively in social situations. For instance, if young people are learning how to navigate relationships in school or how to respond to peer pressure to do something they don’t wish to, they can watch how others (models) handle interactions in healthy ways. Then, if they are in a similar situation themselves as what was modeled, they may feel more confident because they’ll feel prepared by knowing an example of what to do or what not to do. 

We Sometimes Forget To Tend To Our Emotional Health

  • Parents: Watching other people parent successfully and appropriately can be an effective way to learn healthy parenting skills. Parents also play an important role as models for their children. Children observe their parents’ behavior and learn from it. Modeling healthy behaviors can help your child learn to cope with common occurrences in life, such as stress, strong feelings, and facing fears. Parents can model positive emotional behaviors by talking about and showing their feelings in a healthy way, using productive problem-solving skills, and making time to relax and de-stress.
  • Couples: Couples may benefit from modeling. In counseling, they may watch other couples (on video, for instance) engage in healthy communication. For example, they may watch another couple arguing and then resolving the argument in a productive way. The couple may then have positive, effective tools and behaviors to improve communication in their relationship.
  • People Living With Substance Use Disorders: People who are recovering from substance misuse can learn healthy coping skills from observing behavior models.They may learn from observing how a person who is in recovery from substance use effectively uses healthy coping skills to initiate and/or maintain their sobriety. They may also observe behaviors associated with substance misuse, which can serve as models for behaviors to avoid.
  • People Living With Anxiety Disorders: To calm anxious feelings, a person with anxiety may utilize effective tools like progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing. Watching someone modeling these tools correctly can help a person learn the skills.
  • People Living With Phobias: A person with a phobia may find it helpful to watch someone face their fear. For example, if they’re afraid of heights, they may find it helpful to watch how someone else calmly handles heights. This may be a gradual, careful process so that the person watching doesn’t feel so anxious that they can’t learn. They might, for instance, watch a person go a little bit higher at a time until they’ve reached “the top.” This can help with desensitization of the phobia.
  • People Who Have Anger-Management Concerns: By observing healthy models of managing anger, people may learn to better cope with intense feelings when they’re angry. Anger management skills that might be observed and modeled include expressing feelings in a calm, non-confrontational way, taking a timeout when stress or anger-provoking situations are escalating, and using solutions to solve problems that may provoke anger. 
  • People Living With Other Mental Health Disorders Can Benefit From Modeling: Modeling can help people living with mental health disorders understand that they aren’t alone and that others are also living and coping with mental health concerns. Through modeling, people can see how others are managing their symptoms and learn from them.

Many people can benefit from modeling behavior. They can learn from watching people model the behavior and then practice healthy behaviors through role playing. It may be akin to learning something more thoroughly—or just in a different way—by seeing it in person rather than reading or hearing about it. Modeling can be one way for people to learn to behave in more positive or healthy ways.

How Do I Get Help With Behavior Modeling?

If you feel that you or someone you know would benefit from behavior modeling, you might find it helpful to speak to a therapist. They might provide helpful insight as to whether this could be part of an effective treatment plan for you. A therapist can help you strengthen your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings so that you can live a healthy, fulfilling life.

On BetterHelp, you can connect with a licensed mental health professional who is a good fit for you and your needs. BetterHelp can provide you with a safe, secure, and private virtual space for therapy. You can connect with your therapist via chat, video sessions, or phone from the convenience of your own home or any place where you feel comfortable and have good internet service. Therapy can be healing and can help you find ways to make positive changes in your life.

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