If you have issues with the way you act, you might want to try modifying your behavior with the help of therapy. There is a special branch of counseling called “behavioral therapy.” This term relates to types of therapy that are aimed at mental health disorders. This kind of therapy will help you identify and change potentially unhealthy, dangerous, or self-destructive behaviors. Behavioral therapy’s main idea is that all behaviors are learned through experiences, and any unhealthy behaviors can be altered. The treatment typically focuses on current issues and how to fix them and benefit both adults and children.
In which cases behavioral therapy can help?
Behavioral therapy can be useful for people with a wide range of mental disorders. The most common reasons for people to seek behavioral therapy include treating:
- Panic attacks
- Anger issues
There is also a list of conditions and disorders that behavioral therapy can see to, such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Social, and other phobias
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
What kind of techniques are used in behavioral therapy
You will need to know some basic behavioral therapy principles if you want to understand how it works. This type of therapy uses techniques that are based on the two main theories: classical operant conditioning.
Classical Conditioning Techniques
The idea behind classical conditioning is setting up associations between stimuli. Those previously neutral stimuli are paired with such stimulus that automatically and naturally brings forth a response. An association will be formed after several repeated pairings, which will make a previously neutral stimulus conjure up the response on its own. There are a few different techniques and strategies within this approach to alter behavior:
Aversion therapy. This technique pairs an unwanted behavior and an aversive stimulus to reduce the undesired behavior eventually. Following this process, a person with an alcohol use disorder will take a special drug that provokes agonizing symptoms, like vomiting, headaches, anxiety, and nausea, if you combine it with alcohol.
Systematic desensitization: During this process, people will list their fears and then gradually try to relax while focusing on these fears. They will begin with the least fear-inducing thing and then progressively work their way up to the most frightful one. With this technique, people confront their fears with a therapist’s help and try to remain in a relaxed state. Systematic desensitization’s most common use is treating phobias and various anxiety disorders.
Flooding: This technique intensely and rapidly exposes patients to fear-inducing objects or situations while they can’t escape or avoid them. This process is also often used to treat anxieties and phobias.
Operant Conditioning Techniques
Operant conditioning is based on how punishment and reinforcement can increase or decrease the behavior’s rate. If a desirable outcome follows the behavior, it is more likely to occur more frequently in the future and vise versa. Behavioral therapy uses such techniques as punishment, reinforcement, modeling, shaping, and other techniques to adjust a patient’s behavior. These techniques are highly focused and can produce effective and fast results:
Contingency management. In this approach, a patient and a therapist create a formal written contract between them, in which they outline behavior goals, rewards, penalties, and reinforcements. Contingency contracts will very effectively produce behavior changes, as all the rules are defined clearly, preventing both sides from breaking their promises.
Extinction. Another technique that helps produce behavior change is aimed to stop reinforcing the behavior and eliminate the response. A good example of such a process is time-outs, during which a patient is removed from a situation that usually provides reinforcement. Unwanted behavior is progressively extinguished by taking away everything that the person found rewarding.
Modeling. This process models the behavior of others by learning through observation. It doesn’t just rely on punishment or reinforcement and instead allows people to learn new skills or take over acceptable behaviors while watching others perform those desired actions.
Token economies. This strategy aims to modify the behavior using reinforcement. People are earning tokens that can afterward be exchanged for desired items or special privileges. Token economies are often used by parents and teachers, who allow kids to get tokens to engage in preferred behaviors and lose tokens to exhibit undesirable behaviors. These tokens can be traded for such rewards as toys, candy, or extra time to play with a favorite toy.
Impacts of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Behavioral therapy has been widely used for a long time and has effectively treated many different conditions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is particularly considered the “gold standard” of treatment for various disorders.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is most effective for the treatment of such issues, as:
- Anger issues
- Substance abuse
- Somatic symptom disorder
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or other behavioral approaches are not the only kinds of therapy suitable for treating mental illnesses. It might not even be the right choice for your situation. The research has found, for example, that cognitive-behavioral therapy’s effectiveness in the treatment of substance use disorders varies greatly depending on the substance in the question.
What to look out for
Behavioral therapy provides many advantages. It can often be more effective than most of the other approaches to tending to specific issues. For example, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder very often respond well to various behavioral treatments.
But behavioral approaches may not always be the best solution, as this form of therapy has a list of possible downsides. It also might not be the best choice for complex mental health conditions. Behavioral therapies are usually not suitable for treating such psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia and severe depression. Behavioral therapy could help patients manage certain aspects of such psychiatric conditions but should only be used with more appropriate medications and treatments. It may also disregard underlying problems, as behavioral treatments tend to aim at current problems. Behavioral approaches often don’t properly address how situations and communication between people might be contributing to a patients’ problems.