What Is Behavioral Therapy?
Behavioral therapy is a term that describes a broad range of techniques used to change maladaptive behaviors. The goal is to reinforce desirable behaviors and eliminate unwanted ones.
Behavioral therapy is rooted in the principles of behaviorism, a school of thought focused on the idea that we learn from our environment. This approach emerged during the early part of the 20th-century and became a dominant force in the field for many years. Edward Thorndike was one of the first to refer to the idea of modifying behavior.
Unlike the types of therapy that are rooted in insight (such as psychoanalytic therapy and humanistic therapies), behavioral therapy is action-based. Because of this, behavioral therapy tends to be highly focused. The behavior itself is the problem and the goal is to teach people new behaviors to minimize or eliminate the issue.
Types of Behavioral Therapy
There are a number of different types of behavioral therapy. The type of therapy used can depend on a variety of factors, including the condition being treated and the severity of the person’s symptoms.
- Applied behavior analysis uses operant conditioning to shape and modify problematic behaviors.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) relies on behavioral techniques, but adds a cognitive element, focusing on the problematic thoughts behind behaviors.
- Cognitive behavioral play therapy utilizes play to assess, prevent, or treat psychosocial challenges. The therapist may use play to help a child learn how to think and behave differently.
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a form of CBT that utilizes both behavioral and cognitive techniques to help people learn to manage their emotions, cope with distress, and improve interpersonal relationships.
- Exposure therapy utilizes behavioral techniques to help people overcome their fears of situations or objects. This approach incorporates techniques that expose people to the source of their fears while practicing relaxation strategies. It is useful for treating specific phobias and other forms of anxiety.
- Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) focuses on identifying negative or destructive thoughts and feelings. People then actively challenge those thoughts and replace them with more rational, realistic ones.
- Social learning theory centers on how people learn through observation. Observing others being rewarded or punished for their actions can lead to learning and behavior change