Benefits Of Behavioral Therapy

By Nadia Khan

Updated August 23, 2019

Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Behavior therapy, or behavioral therapy, is a broad term used to describe different types of therapeutic treatment designed to treat various mental health problems. Behavior therapy can benefit adults as well as children, and the wide array interventions available enable behavior therapy to be effective for many people. Many different behavior therapists and behavioral therapists specialize in treatments catered to diagnoses.

Some of the most common problems that behavior therapy is used for:

  • Anger management issues
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Panic disorders

In addition, behavioral therapy can also help alleviate symptoms for:

  • ADHD
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Self-mutilation
  • Phobias
  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders
  • Addiction

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Types of Behavioral Therapy

Different types of behavioral therapy techniques exist that behavior therapists utilize to treat mental disorders in both adults and children. Combinations of different treatments are also beneficial, however, any behavioral treatment should be supervised and administered by a behavior therapist.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is "a time-sensitive, structured, present-oriented psychotherapy directed toward solving current problems and teaching patients skills to modify dysfunctional behavior."

CBT is a behavior therapy that is based on the cognitive model. CBT stresses that patients can change the way they think, and gain control of their mood. CBT has been shown to be very effective in treating many common mental health concerns.

CBT is a very popular behavior therapy technique and is a proven, reliable treatment. CBT is popular because it combines behavioral therapy with cognitive therapy. The main teaching of CBT is that thoughts impact your interpretation or perception, which in turn have an influence on your emotional response. Behavioral therapists typically have a patient focus present problems, rather than past ones. By focusing on these issues, people learn skills that translate to future situations.

Behavioral Activation Therapy

Behavioral activation therapy is essentially a behavior treatment for depression that aims to target reactions or behaviors that might maintain or worsen the depression. The behavioral activation therapy model proposes that life events (including loss of life or significant trauma, genetic predispositions to mental disorders like depression or anxiety, and even the hassles in life) lead to people experiencing low amounts of positive reinforcement from their environment.

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The main issue with the negative reactions to situations is that they may increase the symptoms of mental disorders. For example, shutting oneself out and away from everyone and anything might seem like a great idea in the moment when feelings of depression take hold, but in the long run that behavior may make depression symptoms more severe.

BA proposes an "outside-in" approach utilizing the scheduling of behavior therapy activities aimed to allow patients to begin to increase their chance of having a better opportunity to receive positive reinforcement.

Behavioral analytic theory "recognizes that the outcome or function of a behavior is more important than the form of the behavior". Further, BA targets "avoidance" reactions and behaviors. Avoiding behaviors must be addressed with proper BA behavioral therapy techniques aimed to alleviate symptoms.

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy can be administered by a behavior therapist, and it aims to teach patients to associate a stimulus that is desirable, yet destructive with another stimulus that is extremely unpleasant. This treatment is popular in addressing some forms of substance abuse for that reason.

The goal of aversion therapy is to teach a patient to associate the problem addiction with something that causes them discomfort or extreme uneasiness. For example, a behavior therapist can teach a patient to associate alcohol with a personal, unpleasant memory.

Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy

This form of behavior therapy is most commonly and effectively used with children suffering from behavior disorders. When a behavior therapist watches or observes a child play, the behavior therapist is given key insight into how that child reacts to specific situations. For example, behavior therapists can learn what a child is uncomfortable expressing or even unable to express.

Allowing children to play also enables them to feel safe and comfortable. They're free to choose their own toys and play at will, allowing behavior therapists the opportunity to glimpse into how that child behaves and reacts. Behavior therapists can also play with a child, so they can gain knowledge and pass it on to parents, enabling parents to implement tactics to have better communication with their children.

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization is another form of behavior therapy that is based on the principle of classical conditioning. This type of behavior therapy aims to remove the fear response in reaction a patient has to a phobia. In substitution of the fear, a calm or relaxed response to the conditional stimulus begins to gradually develop through counter conditioning.

There are three phases to systematic desensitization treatment:

  1. Physical Treatment: Deep muscle relaxation techniques and breathing exercises are taught.
  2. Fear Hierarchy: Creating a chart or diagram of what a patient fears least all the way to the most fear-provoking phobia provides a structure for behavior therapy
  3. Working the Way Up: Patients working upwards through their fear hierarchy beginning with the fear they are least affected by. By working their way up to the stimulus that provokes the most fear. By moving from stage to stage, the fear patients feel lessens thus making them less prone to being upset or disturbed by it.

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By the patient constantly confronting these fears the situations or feared objects stop causing a fear response.

How Effective is Behavioral Therapy?

Different types of behavior therapy have been extremely successful in combating different types, and severities of mental disorders. Not only are different types of behavior therapy effective, they also address a wide range of different mental disorders.

At least 75 percent of patients who go through some form of cognitive behavior therapy benefit positively from treatment to some degree. Although, behavior therapy isn't just dependent on the behavior therapist, but the effort the patient puts in as well.

Studies find that behavior therapy techniques are most effective in:

  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme phobias
  • Anger issues
  • Bulimia and anorexia
  • Stress
  • Somatoform disorders

Seeking treatment from a behavior therapist can greatly reduce symptoms, if not alleviate them altogether. Treatment success depends on the interventions used, the ability of the therapist, and the commitment of the patient.

Finding the Right Behavior Therapist

Committing to thoroughly researching a behavior therapist that specializes in working with the problems you are facing is important when seeking treatment. You can find many therapists who utilize behavior therapy at BetterHelp.com, who are vetted and licensed practitioners.

A behavior therapist's treatment will involve asking you personal and revealing questions, so not only should you know what practice they are committed to, but you should also be sure you are comfortable with them. Some research suggests that the relationship you are able to create with your therapist is the most important factor in treatment outcomes.

After Behavioral Therapy: What's Next?


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Behavior therapy tends to be short-term, usually lasting between 10 to 20 sessions. Although these sessions with a behavior therapist seem short-lived, their effects are lasting. Committing to behavior therapy can enable you to achieve a level of peace you once thought was impossible.

Treatment can lead to normal reactions, alleviation from depression, elimination of destructive addictions, and a curb to fear and anxiety. Certain tasks can now be accomplished without issue.

Finding the right behavior therapist and the right behavior therapy techniques can lead to recovery and the elimination of debilitating symptoms that inhibit you from living your life normally. With commitment, comes recovery.

  1. http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/details/what-you-can-expect/rec-20188674
  2. https://www.simplypsychology.org/Systematic-Desensitisation.html
  3. http://www.christophermartell.com/ba.php

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