Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Behavioral Therapies

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Behavioral Therapies

Have you ever found yourself doing something over and over again that you know may be harmful, but you're not sure how to change it? Maybe you bite your nails or yell at your siblings too much. One way or another, these behaviors were likely learned, which means that there is hope for them to be unlearned.

  • Behavioral therapy definition.
  • Behavioral therapy techniques.
  • Types of behavioral therapy.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Behavioral Therapy Definition

Not all psychotherapies are made alike. While some psychotherapies focus on treating the mind in order to change a person's behavior, behavioral therapy believes that the behavior itself should be treated. Behavioral therapies operate under the assumption that if a behavior can be learned, then it can be unlearned.

Behavioral therapy is primarily used to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorders, excessive anger, social anxiety, substance use disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Behavioral therapy is also commonly used to help treat children and adolescents, as they are more malleable compared to adults.

Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Behavioral therapy is based on the two primary behaviorism concepts: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical Conditioning Techniques

Classical conditioning techniques are based on the work of Ivan Pavlov, who is best known for his work conditioning dogs. In these experiments, Pavlov reveals that we can learn behaviors and emotions through classical conditioning.

Classical conditioning: unconscious and automatic learning that results in a conditioned response to an unconditioned or neutral stimulus.

Behavioral therapies that use conditioning therapy have proven successful for cases such as bedwetting. Children are woken up by a sensor that detects moisture so that, over time, they learn that wetting the bed means losing sleep. Other forms of behavioral therapies that use classical conditioning techniques include exposure therapies and aversive conditioning therapies, but more on that later.

Operant Conditioning Techniques

Based on the work of B. F. Skinner and the "Skinner box," operant conditioning techniques use positive and negative reinforcers to either promote desired behaviors or diminish unwanted behaviors (Skinner, 1948).1

A reinforcer: a stimulus that increases the likelihood of a behavior or response occurring.

The idea is that when a behavior is rewarded, we are more likely to repeat them. However, if our behavior is punished, then we are less likely to repeat them. Behavioral therapy that uses operant conditioning techniques is behavior modification therapy.

For more on behaviorism, click here!

Types of Behavioral Therapy

Now, let's explore some of the types of behavioral therapy mentioned above: exposure therapy, aversive conditioning therapy, and behavior modification therapy.

Behaioral Therapies, boy hiding under pillows, StudySmarterExposure therapy can reduce fears and phobias, Pixabay.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapies use a method called counterconditioning, a concept originally developed by Mary Cover Jones. While working with a three-year-old child named Peter, Jones was able to help him be rid of his fear of rabbits (Jones, 1924). To do this, she created a relaxing environment for Peter while slowly bringing the fuzzy rabbit closer and closer to him a little at a time. Eventually, Peter was holding and stroking the rabbit without distress. Jones' counterconditioning set the framework for systematic desensitization.

Systematic desensitization: an exposure therapy technique in which a person connects a relaxed state to an anxiety-provoking stimulus.

The goal here is to tell your mind and your body that you are safe by envisioning yourself in a distressing situation but using mindfulness strategies to remain calm. The therapist will usually guide this by gently reminding the client to recenter themselves if they start becoming upset. The goal is for the person to eventually associate calmness with a previously upsetting situation, giving them more confidence when they are actually in that situation. This practice has proven especially helpful in anxiety disorders.

If someone is afraid of public speaking, a behavioral therapist may have them repeatedly expose themselves to situations in which they must engage in public speaking. Each time, they will practice mindfulness strategies to remain calm, similar to when you hear people suggest imagining everyone in their underwear.

The idea is that a person cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time – one cancels out the other. However, the key is for the therapist to take a gradual approach. To do this, the client must rank their anxiety-provoking situations from mild to severe. This way, they can conquer the easiest situations first and work their way up to more challenging situations. In the example above, someone may start by simply asking a question in a small class and work their way up towards giving a class presentation.

Aversive Conditioning Therapy

While the goal of exposure therapies is to increase behaviors you should do, the goal of aversive conditioning therapy, another classical conditioning technique, is to decrease behaviors you shouldn't do.

Aversive conditioning: a therapy technique that reduces or eliminates harmful behaviors by creating an unpleasant (aversive) response.

Over time, the person starts to associate their harmful behavior with a negative consequence which should, in turn, decrease that behavior. This has been most often used as a way to treat alcohol use disorder in which the therapist will give a person drinks with a drug that produces severe nausea. The hope is that the person will associate alcohol with nausea to the point at which they no longer desire alcohol. This method, however, has only shown short-term success in alcohol use disorders and has yet to produce strong long-term effects.

Behavioral Therapies, man throwing up in pale, StudySmarterNausea from alcohol aversion therapy, Freepik.

Behavior Modification Therapy

Another type of behavioral therapy is behavior modification therapy which draws from operant conditioning techniques. Behavior modification therapy is simply therapy that aims to change unwanted behavior. It can sometimes be intensive, but it has proven successful in shaping the behavior of people with schizophrenia or children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Most likely, we have all undergone some form of behavior modification, especially in school. We were given a gold star for picking up our toys or a piece of candy for saying a correct answer. This method reinforces desirable behaviors and withholds reinforcement of unwanted behaviors.

In some forms of behavior modification therapy, the therapist may create what's called a token economy in which some kind of token or point system is used to reinforce positive behaviors. The points can later be used to redeem and receive rewards such as TV time, extra recess time, or day trips. This technique is great to use in group therapy, homes, or institutions.

Token economies are most commonly used in classrooms, homes, or detention facilities.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

On many occasions, behavioral therapy may be combined with other types of therapy.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: a therapy that combines behavioral therapy with cognitive therapies.

Cognitive therapies aim to change a person's thinking in order to change their feelings. Cognitive-behavioral therapy recognizes that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact with one another to influence our psychological well-being.

One of the major criticisms of behavioral therapy is the suggestion that the learned (or unlearned) behaviors may not be durable. Earlier, we mentioned that aversion therapy does not always produce longer-term results. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may fill some of the missing gaps in behavioral therapy through the added benefit of aligning a person's thoughts with their behaviors.

Other criticisms of behavioral therapy include claims that it is too authoritarian. In other words, it has too much control over someone's actions and choices. In cognitive-behavioral therapy, however, one of the primary goals is to promote autonomy by providing the client with information and tools that they can use in everyday life.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used therapies. It has been proven to be an evidence-based treatment for conditions including:

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Bipolar disorders

  • Depression

  • Eating disorders

  • Chronic pain

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

  • Schizophrenia

  • Sleep disorders

  • Phobias

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is another branch of cognitive-behavioral therapy that was originally created to help treat borderline personality disorder. It can also be effective in changing harmful or suicidal behavioral patterns.

DBT's goal is to help a person find a path toward acceptance and change by improving the following:

  • Mindfulness.

  • Emotional regulation.

  • Interpersonal effectiveness.

  • Distress tolerance.

DBT can be in either an individual or group setting and may incorporate skills training or one-on-one coaching. In either case, it is especially important for the therapist to create a safe and non-judgemental space. DBT draws from behavioral therapy techniques by identifying behaviors that may help achieve the client's goals of acceptance and change.

Behavioral Therapies - Key takeaways

  • Behavioral therapy believes that the behavior itself should be treated. Behavioral therapies operate under the assumption that if a behavior can be learned, then it can be unlearned.
  • Behavioral therapy is based on the two primary behaviorism concepts: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.
    • Classical conditioning refers to unconscious and automatic learning that results in a conditioned response to an unconditioned or neutral stimulus.
    • Operant conditioning techniques use positive and negative reinforcers to either promote desired behaviors or diminish unwanted behaviors.
  • Systematic desensitization is an exposure therapy technique in which a person connects a relaxed state to an anxiety-provoking stimulus.
  • Aversive conditioning reduces or eliminates harmful behaviors by creating an unpleasant (aversive) response.

References

  1. B. F. Skinner. "'Superstition' in the pigeon." Journal of Experimental Psychology. Vol. 38. No. 2. 1948.
  2. M. C. Jones. "A laboratory study of fear: The case of Peter." Pedagogical Seminary, Vol. 31. 1924.

Frequently Asked Questions about Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy believes that the behavior itself should be treated to improve psychological well-being.

Psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious mind and bringing up things from the past to treat problems. However, behavior therapy focuses on the present and aims to change a person's behavior to treat a problem

Behavioral therapy works by using classical conditioning and operant conditioning techniques. 

Behavioral therapy is primarily used to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorders, excessive anger, social anxiety, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

Final Behavioral Therapies Quiz

Question

True or False? Behavioral therapies operate under the assumption that since behavior can be learned then it cannot be unlearned.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

_______________ refers to unconscious and automatic learning that results in a conditioned response to an unconditioned or neutral stimulus.

Show answer

Answer

Classical conditioning

Show question

Question

A _________ is a stimulus that increases the likelihood of a behavior or response occurring.

Show answer

Answer

Reinforcer

Show question

Question

What is systematic desensitization?

Show answer

Answer

Systematic desensitization is an exposure therapy technique in which a person connects a relaxed state to an anxiety-provoking stimulus.

Show question

Question

__________ reduces or eliminates harmful behaviors by creating an unpleasant response.

Show answer

Answer

Aversive conditioning

Show question

Question

When a behavior is rewarded we are ______ likely to repeat them. However, if our behavior is punished, then we are _____ likely to repeat them.

Show answer

Answer

more ; less

Show question

Question

Who originally developed counterconditioning by helping a 3-year-old overcome his fear of rabbits?

Show answer

Answer

Mary Cover Jones

Show question

Question

True or False? Using aversion therapy to treat alcohol use disorder has only shown short-term success in alcohol use disorder and has yet to produce strong long-term effects.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

In some forms of behavior modification therapy, the therapist may create what's called a _________ in which some kind of point system is used to reinforce positive behaviors.

Show answer

Answer

Token economy

Show question

Question

_____________ may fill some of the missing gaps in behavioral therapy through the added benefit of aligning a person's thoughts with their behaviors.

Show answer

Answer

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a criticism of behavioral therapy?


Show answer

Answer

Behavioral therapy cannot be effective in treating autism spectrum disorder.

Show question

Question

____________ is another branch of cognitive-behavioral therapy that was originally created to help treat borderline personality disorder.

Show answer

Answer

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Show question

Question

True or False? DBT can be in either an individual or group setting and may incorporate skills training or one-on-one coaching.

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

True or False? Behavioral therapy is not always effective in treating children and adolescents because they are more malleable. 

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Sometimes people suggest imagining everyone in their underwear while public speaking to enter a state of calmness. What is behavioral therapy technique is this an example of?


Show answer

Answer

Systematic desensitization

Show question

Question

What mental health disorder is behavioral therapy typically not used to treat?

Show answer

Answer

Anxiety disorder

Show question

Question

What age group does behavioral therapy work best with?

Show answer

Answer

Children/adolescents

Show question

Question

How is classical conditioning used as a behavioral therapy?

Show answer

Answer

People, mostly children, can be conditioned to act in a different way (such as not wetting the bed)

Show question

Question

How is classical conditioning different from operant conditioning?

Show answer

Answer

Operant conditioning uses positive and negative reinforcers in order to change behavior (and the person knows they are being conditioned) while classical conditioning is unconscious and the goal is to have a conditioned response to a previously neutral stimulus

Show question

Question

What is counterconditioning?

Show answer

Answer

Conditioning to replace a bad reaction/emotion (such as fear) with a positive one

Show question

Question

What mental health disorder has systematic desensitization been particularly helpful with?

Show answer

Answer

Anxiety disorders

Show question

Question

How are exposure therapy and aversive conditioning therapy different?

Show answer

Answer

Exposure therapy increases behaviors you should do, aversive conditioning therapy decreases behaviors you shouldn't do 

Show question

Question

What is the goal of behavior modification therapy?

Show answer

Answer

Change unwanted behavior

Show question

Question

What is the purpose of a token economy?

Show answer

Answer

Reinforce positive behaviors

Show question

Question

Where is a token economy usually not used?

Show answer

Answer

Playground at recess

Show question

Question

What does cognitive behavioral therapy add on to behavioral therapy?

Show answer

Answer

It adds the focus of a person's thoughts to the picture. It combines the focus on changing someone's behaviors with changing someone's thoughts. 

Show question

Question

Which of these disorders is cognitive behavioral therapy not typically used to treat?

Show answer

Answer

Bipolar disorders

Show question

Question

How does dialectical behavior therapy add on to behavioral therapy?

Show answer

Answer

It adds a focus on emotional regulation, mindfulness, and distress tolerance to lead the person to acceptance

Show question

Question

What mental health disorder was dialectical behavioral therapy created to treat?

Show answer

Answer

Borderline personality disorder

Show question

Question

What is the difference between aversive conditioning and counterconditioning?

Show answer

Answer

Aversive conditioning is a type of counterconditioning

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Behavioral Therapies quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.