Benefits And Methods Of Behavioral Therapy

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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When it comes to managing mental health disorders, there are several different ways in which a treatment plan can be carried out, including behavior modification therapy. Below you'll find a discussion on various approaches and how they work. You’ll also learn how certain therapeutic models can help individuals with everyday problems and experiences, even those without symptoms of a specific mental health condition. 

Behavioral therapy can help you manage disruptive behaviors

Behavioral therapy

Behavioral therapy is a general term that refers to therapies aimed at treatment and reversing of unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors. While traditional psychotherapy often involves looking at the past, this method focuses on the present. Based on the principles of contextual behavior science, it focuses on letting a person learn about and change the mental processes that lead to negative patterns to offer healthier approaches to their challenges in life. Behavioral therapy can also be effective in helping children improve their mental health and emotional well-being.

Since behaviors are learned, they can also be changed or unlearned as well.

How behavioral therapy works 

Behavioral therapy can be used to treat a range of conditions including borderline personality disorder (BPD), anxiety, and other conditions. 

Behavior therapy helps to identify negative behaviors and support an individual through changing them. A therapist may help a client improve their self-awareness and develop their capacity for emotional control. This can involve helping clients process unpleasant stimuli, such as negative emotions, feelings, or difficult social interactions. They may then help clients develop positive thought patterns and adaptive behaviors using various therapeutic methods. Specific methods used often depend on the client, their circumstances. 


Types of behavioral therapy

There are several different types of behavioral therapy. Some are used for individuals of a certain age, or when someone has gone through a specific experience. It may be conducted one-on-one in an online or in-person setting. Some therapists may offer their services in a group setting. 

A professional can help you decide which kind might work most effectively for you. Below, we’ll address some of these methods in more detail. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is one of the most common and popular modalities, focusing on your thoughts and beliefs. In fact, it centers specifically on how these two things influence everything you do and feel. By looking at problematic thoughts and behaviors, CBT attempts to change how you think. By changing unhealthy and unhelpful thought patterns, you can alter how you interact with the world in a positive way.

Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) is a form of CBT that aims to help individuals manage negative thoughts and feelings. In some cases, a person may adopt irrational, self-defeating thought patterns, which may then lead to unhealthy patterns. REBT aims to replace those irrational thoughts with positive, constructive thoughts. REBT can be especially useful in anxiety treatment and may be effective in treating other similar conditions.

Cognitive behavioral play therapy (CBPT)

For children, play therapy is often effective in helping them cope with certain problems that they may be facing. Children play in unique ways that help give a therapist insight into what the child is experiencing. Children may be able to express more difficult emotions with the help of the toys that they play with and how they play with them. Some of these forms of play are about free expression while others may be more guided. No matter what the precise method is, however, the child is encouraged to play and express themselves while the therapist observes. In addition to working directly with the child, therapists often help teach parents strategies for managing problem behaviors.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

DBT is another form of CBT aimed at helping individuals manage negative emotions by teaching “four elements” of DEBT: mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional control. Originally developed to help those living with Borderline Personality Disorder, it’s now used to treat a wide variety of other mental health and personality disorders.

Systematic desensitization

One of the most popular therapeutic techniques used is called systematic desensitization. Individuals with phobias will generally receive the most benefit from this evidence based approach. Through systematic desensitization, people with phobias learn how to relieve stress and anxiety from the situation or item about which they experience fear. It involves aspects of treatment like learning relaxation techniques and slowly implementing exposure therapy. With this approach, the individual can learn to eventually face their fears.

Aversion therapy

Aversion therapy is often used in addiction treatment. This instills an association between the negative action that they no longer want and some form of unpleasant stimuli. Uncomfortable memories can be one form of association designed to influence an individual to stop using drugs, for example. As with other types of behavior therapy, aversion therapy for addiction treatment should always be conducted by a qualified professional. 

Who is behavioral therapy for?

Behavioral therapy can be helpful for individuals experiencing mental health problems such as: 

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Substance use disorder
  • Stress
  • Anger problems
  • Emotional control

It may also be beneficial for treating conditions such as:

  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Phobias 

Most methods of behavioral and mental health disorders can be treated through some form of counseling, though the specifics may change from one type of condition to another as well as from one specific individual to another.

Children can also experience positive outcomes resulting from behavioral therapy, particularly play therapy. These therapeutic treatments allow them to express things that they may otherwise feel too uncomfortable, or unable, to express. This can help your child understand how to respond to different situations and may even assist with learning. It can also aid in developing an understanding of positive and negative behavior and how to interact with one’s peers. This can be especially helpful for children who have autism or ADHD. 

If you’re unsure whether counseling might be right for you or your child, try speaking with a mental health professional. They can go over your history, take note of your symptoms, and then offer advice about what kinds of approaches they believe would be most effective for your needs. In general, though, if you’re experiencing problems controlling some aspect of your behavior, behavioral therapy might be a viable option to consider trying. 

Seeking behavioral help

There are several different benefits associated with counseling. For many people, it can be an effective way to improve their overall well-being. For those with conditions like borderline personality disorder (BPD) and similar, these behavior modification therapies can vastly improve quality of life. 

Even if you don't believe you're experiencing borderline personality disorder (BPD0 or indeed any mental health disorder, you can still see benefits from behavioral therapy. The opportunity to talk with someone openly and honestly about anything you want can help you to feel more comfortable and confident in your daily life.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Behavioral therapy can help you manage disruptive behaviors

Online therapy

No one should have to face mental health challenges on their own. Whether you’ve been considering behavioral therapy for some time or are new to counseling , online counseling can be a productive starting point. You can connect with a therapist through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. Here, you can speak with someone who is specialized in the area in which you’re seeking guidance. 

No matter where you live, you can still seek care according to your availability and in the way that you feel most comfortable. Whether you’d like to talk over phone calls, through a video chat, or by using an in-app messaging feature, the choice is yours. Online counseling makes getting mental health care easier and more convenient.

The efficacy of online therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is just one form of behavioral therapy you might participate in on your journey to healing. In a recent publication, researchers looked at several different studies to examine whether CBT was comparable when delivered online versus in person. Researchers found that online CBT was just as effective as face-to-face CBT and that an online option is likely more appealing to people living in rural communities.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people facing a range of life’s challenges.

Counselor reviews

“Sirena Blaesser is a genuinely kind and generous human being. To have her as my counselor has been wonderful so far. She listens carefully, helps you search in yourself with gentleness, encourage you to acknowledge yourself. The most important thing is that she sees you as a person integrally. She is very patien[t] and well prepared to lead you and motivate you. Her expertise and experience are remarkable. If you want a kind voice to help you overcome hardships, I will recommend Sirena.”


While behavioral therapy is often used to treat mental illness, one does not have to be diagnosed with a mental health condition in order to find it beneficial. Engaging in regular therapy sessions, regardless of the specific approach, can help an individual identify connections between their mental processes, feelings, and behaviors. From there, they can address problematic behaviors that they would like to change and develop healthy coping skills for managing difficult emotions. Online CBT may be helpful for those facing barriers to traditional, in-person mental health care.

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