Understanding The Difference: How Is Behavior Therapy Different Than Psychoanalysis
Updated February 04, 2021
Mental and emotional problems vary, as do the approaches used to treat them. In the field of psychology, hundreds of forms of therapy are used to relieve the distress of peoplesuffering from mental and emotional pain. These forms of therapy fit into a few general categories.
This article will explain the background of and methods used in two major forms of psychotherapy: behavior therapy and psychoanalysis.
Behavior Therapy As A Concept
Behavior therapy, also called behavioral modification, uses people’s actions in the world as the access point forsolvinga variety of problems—not only behavioral problems, but also problems involving thoughts and feelings. Behavioral psychologistspresume that problem behaviors are caused by interactions between people and their environments.Problems occur when a person’s environment rewards damaging behaviors; over time, these behaviors become habits.
Behavior therapy is used to treatsuch dangerous habits as smoking, substance use, eating disorders, insomnia, and the inability to manage stress effectively. Behavior therapy can also be used to treat larger psychological disorders, includingobsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders, depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.
For example, to help a client with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a behavioral therapist might teach that individual, little by little, to tolerate a reasonable amount of dirt in their environment or to refrain from constantly washing their hands. This technique is called exposure therapy.
Behavior therapycan also be used to enhance positive behaviors, such as organization, involvement in sports,and boundary forming.
Origins Of Behavior Therapy In Psychology
Behavior therapy can be traced tothe research of Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, which was published in the 1920s and 1930s. Pavlov’s work focused onclassical conditioning, which means learning through association. In classical conditioning, two stimuli(objects or events that produce a reaction) are linked together to produce a new response. In a famous experiment, Pavlov classically conditioned dogs to salivate when he rang a bell, because the dogs learned to associate the presence of food with the sound of the bell.
Behavior therapy is also associated with the work of US psychologist B.F. Skinner, who studied operant conditioning in the 1930s. Operant conditioning means learning behavior through rewards and punishments. While working with patients in a psychiatric hospital, Skinner found that behaviors could be “shaped” (gradually changed) when positive behaviors were followed by desirable consequences and negative behaviors were followed by undesired consequences.
Behavior therapy was later established as a treatmentmethod whenthe work of psychologists such as Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis resulted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is based on the theory that people’s thoughts determine both their emotions and their behaviors. Therefore, when therapists help people change their thoughts, they can help them change their lives.
Significance Of Behavior Therapy
Behavior therapy is based on the belief that we are influenced by and learn from our environment. Hence, behavioral therapists help clients change unhealthy behaviors by focusing on observable actions, rather than on what is happening in the mind. Behavior therapy also focuses on concrete changes in the present rather than on insight about the past.
Components Of Behavioral Therapy Techniques
Specific types of behavior therapy include the following:
- COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY
In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the therapist helps the client identify unhealthy thought patterns. The therapist then helps the client understand how these patterns are associated with self-destructive beliefs, or schemas, which lead to both negative moods and destructive behaviors.With this understanding, the client learns tochallenge unhealthy thoughts and replace them with healthier ones.
- FLOODING THERAPY
Flooding therapy is a type of exposure therapy, meaning the therapist exposes the client to an object or event that they fear in a safe, controlled setting. The principle behind flooding therapy is that when a client learns that their fear won’t harm them, that fear will disappear, or be extinguished.
In flooding therapy, the client is not gradually exposed to the thing they fear; rather, theyare “flooded” by that thing, meaning they are exposed to a large “dose.” For example, with a client who is afraid of snakes, the therapist might bring live snakes to a session and force the client to stay in the room with the snakes and the therapist for a full hour. The theory behind flooding is that initial fear responsesare time-limited, and once the fear dies down and the client sees that they are not harmed, their fear will disappear.
Flooding may be used to treat phobias. Behaviorists believe that phobias are learned through association, meaning that a person learns to interpret an environmental stimulus (e.g., snakes) as dangerous through association (e.g., stepping on a snake and being startled or bitten). After the initial experience, the person becomes anxious that the experience will happen again; in extreme situations, this anxiety can become post-traumatic stress disorder. In exposure therapies such as flooding,clients are taught to relax during exposure in a safe environment.
- AVERSION THERAPY
In aversion therapy, an undesired behavior is paired with an unpleasant stimulus to break an unwanted habit. A well-known example of aversion therapy has to do with substance use. When a client takes Antabuse, they become sick when they drink alcohol. This method creates an aversion to drinking, as the client learns to associate alcohol with feeling ill. Thus, this form of behavior therapy reinforcesthe breaking of unhealthy habits.
- SYSTEMATIC DESENSITIZATION
Like flooding,systematic desensitization (or gradual exposure therapy) is an exposure therapy. However, it is both gentler and more gradual than flooding. Systematic desensitization focuses on relaxation, so the client learns to associate feared objects and events with a sense of safety and calm.Anxiety, panic, and phobiascan be treated by teaching clients to relax their muscles, breathedeeply, and/or meditate while being exposed, little by little, to feared stimuli.
Gradual exposure means that fears are faced step by step. Suppose you are anxious about leaving your house. Using systematic desensitization, your therapist may advise you to start by getting dressed for an outing while breathing deeply and listening to soothing music. Next you might be encouraged to relax your muscles while you step outside your door. Finally, you would practice visiting a close friend or family member, all the while making sure to keep your body relaxed. Throughout this process, you would be encouraged to visualize solutions to problems that might come up. This form of behavior therapy takes longer than flooding.
The Theory Of Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysisoriginated with Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist who began his work in the 1890s. It consists of theories and therapeutic methodsgrounded in the belief that peoplehave thoughts, feelings, memories, and desires that are unconscious, or not directly accessible.The purpose of psychoanalytic therapy is to bring unconscious content to consciousness through a cathartic,or transformational, healing experience.
Traditionally during psychoanalysis, the analyst (or psychoanalytic therapist) asks the patient to lie on a couch; the analyst sits outside the patient’s field of vision. The client talks about their dreams, fantasies, and childhood experiences while the analyst takes notes. Analysists use techniques such as free association and dream analysis to access traumas, some of which are believed to go back to childhood memories that have been repressed and are hidden to the patient’s conscious mind.
Psychoanalysis is a longer process than behavior therapy, often lasting years and involving two or more sessions a week. Unlike behavior therapy, which focuses on actions that can be seen, psychoanalysis focuses on unseen desires and motivations.
Psychoanalysis has been used to treat psychological issues including phobias, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, personality disorders, panic attacks, workaholism, and hypersensitivity.
History Of Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is considered to be the first form of psychotherapy. In addition to Sigmund Freud, theorists including Anna Freud (Sigmund Freud’s daughter), Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson made lasting contributions to the field. Erikson expanded upon Freud’s theories by examining human development and stressing the need for growth throughout the life cycle.
6 Tenets Of Psychoanalysis
- The unconscious mind largely determines human behavior.
- Personality is influenced by early childhood events (between the ages of one to five).
- The unconscious is made conscious through catharsis, which leads to the ability to deal with underlying issues.
- Unconscious experiences can be made conscious by exploring dreams.
- People use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from theawareness of unconscious memories and desires.
- Mental breakdown occurs when there is a conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind.
Psychoanalytic Therapy Strategies
- Free Association
In psychoanalytic therapy, free association is used to accessmemories stored in the unconscious. The analysist reads a list of words, and the patient responds to each with whatever comes immediately to mind. Freud believed that the responses to these words revealed repressed traumatic memories, which could then be used to help patients heal.
- Dream Interpretation
Freud believed that dreams were a gateway to the unconscious. He therefore developed a method of dream interpretation to understand his patients’ inner experience. Freud was convinced that many dreams had sexual meanings that were hidden by their literal, or manifest, content.
- Inkblot Tests
Another way analysts access the unconscious mind is by using aRorschach Test (1921), which is a patient’s interpretation of inkblots. Inkblot tests are known as projective tests because the patient projects, or casts, the contents of their own mind onto a neutral image. This projectionis thought to reveal hidden parts of the patient’s personality. In the Rorschach Test, patients are shown 10 inkblots and asked about each, “What might this be?” The analyst the interprets results using guidelines developed by comparing the results of many tests to the personality traits and psychiatric diagnoses of the test takers. There has been controversy about thevalue of inkblot testing, with some arguing in favor of its clinical utility and others arguing that it has little validity.
- Transference Analysis
Transferenceis defined as the “transfer” of a patient’s feelings toward key figures from their past onto their therapist or analyst. In psychoanalysis, transference analysismeans that the analyst interprets the patient’s transference, bringing those earlier feelings to consciousness. Transference analysis is believed to bring insight to relationship patterns by helping patients better understanding their earliest connections.
Differences Between Behavior Therapy And Psychoanalysis
Like all forms of therapy, behavior therapy and psychoanalysis share the goals of reducing psychologicalsymptoms and improving quality of life.In addition, the success of both may be determined more by the strength of the relationship between client and therapist than by the methods used. However, as seen above, there are some critical differences between behavior therapy and psychoanalysis.
- Time Frame
The time frame for successful treatmentdiffers greatly between behavior therapy and psychoanalysis. Patients in psychoanalysis often see their analyst two or more times a week for multiple years. Behavior therapies are much briefer: some courses of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy last only five sessions
- Belief System
Behavior therapy professionals believe that what triggers a person’s emotional or mental instability is the thought and ideas he has- They are not focused on the past experiences a person has.
The psychoanalyst has different opinions- they believe that the repressed emotions in the unconscious mind trigger mental health relapse. If you want a lasting solution to emotional breakdown or mental instability, you have to bring your unconscious mind to light.
A psychoanalyst takes a different approach to solving clients’ problem than a behaviorist.Psychoanalytic sessions are largely led by the patient’s train of thought: the analyst may speak very little and take notes while the patient free associates. The goal is for the patient to access repressed thoughts, feelings, and memories, thereby gaining insight into their past and releasing associated pain. Behaviorists, on the other hand, are concerned with what can be measured or quantified, and they carefully direct therapy sessions to meet specific goals.
The purpose of psychotherapy is to help people change and grow, as well as to ease the symptoms of conditions such as anxiety and depression. To choose the right form of therapy, you need to consider which is best suited for your goals and challenges.
Therapists at BetterHelp come from a variety of clinical backgrounds and orientations. Whether you want to explore issues from your past to break unhealthy relationship patterns, or change a bad habit such as smoking or overeating, you can schedule an appointment with a professional at BetterHelp today. After answering some basic questions about your history and what brings you to therapy, you will be matched with a therapist whose approach is right for you.
CBT with a licensed therapist is a first-line treatment for conditions from phobiastoPTSD. And research shows that online CBT (iCBT) is an effective alternative to face-to-face treatment. One recent study found no significant differences at a three-month follow-up between the depressive symptoms of those who received face-to-face CBT and internet CBT. Another study found that those who received iCBT had significantly fewer depressive symptoms than a control group during a 10-week trial. CBT helps people reframe negative thoughts into positive ones; this reframing leads to more positive emotions and healthier behaviors as well.
The Benefits of Online Therapy
As discussed above, online CBT with a licensed therapist is a great way to work on anxiety, depression, and more. But when you’re struggling with symptoms like fatigue and fear, it can be hard to find the motivation to leave home. This is where online therapy comes in. You can access online therapy platform from the comfort and privacy of your own home. There’s no need to sit in traffic or take time out of your busy workday to drive to your appointment; you can speak with your licensed therapist from wherever you have an internet connection. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have used CBT to help people with a variety of challenges.
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