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Behavioural Therapy

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Behavioural Therapy

You have probably heard of drug therapy and biological treatments used in psychology to treat mental disorders. But what about behavioural therapies? In this explanation, we will look at the general aspects of this type of psychological therapy. First, we will understand the assumptions of the behavioural approach and how behaviourist assumptions can be applied to relationships. Then we will look at what the definition of behaviour therapy is, some practical examples, and finally, the strengths and weaknesses of behavioural treatment.

Behavioural Therapy: Behaviourist assumptions

The behavioural science approach makes three important assumptions: blank slate, behaviour by conditioning, and humans and animals learning in similar ways. Let’s look at each of these assumptions in more detail below.

Blank state

The behaviourist approach assumes that our minds are like a ‘tabula rasa’ or blank slate. Thus, we form our minds and learn through interaction with the external environment. We are passive beings whose behaviour environment entirely shapes. In this respect, behaviourism takes the approach of education in the nature-nurture debate. External factors of the individual determine a person’s behaviour, which is explained as environmental determinism.

Behaviour learnt through conditioning

Behaviour is learned through two types of conditioning: classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical conditioning

A neutral stimulus is associated with an unconditioned stimulus and then becomes a conditioned stimulus in this process. A famous example is Pavlov’s dog.

  1. Food was presented to the dog (unconditioned stimulus), after which the dog salivated (unconditioned response).
  2. A bell (neutral stimulus) was rung each time the food was presented.
  3. Finally, the bell was associated with the food, so the dog salivated when the bell (conditioned stimulus) was rung (conditioned response).

Operant conditioning

Operant behaviour is when a behaviour is learned through reinforcement or punishment. If we are rewarded for our behaviour, we will likely maintain the behaviour. However, if we are punished, our behaviour will decrease. Reinforcement can be either positive or negative. Positive reinforcement is when something is added, negative reinforcement is when something is taken away.

Positive reinforcement: a child is rewarded with a gift for getting a good school report. The child continues to do well in school, so he gets more gifts.

Negative reinforcement: on a cold winter day, you wear gloves when you go outside, and they keep you warm (in this sense, they take away the cold). You continue to wear gloves when you are outside to keep the cold away.

Humans and animals learn in similar ways

The behaviourist approach assumes that animals and humans learn in the same way. The only differences between humans and animals are quantitative, such as the size of our brains. Therefore, behaviourists believe that animal studies can be applied to humans to make predictions and observations about human behaviour.

Pavlov’s theory of classical conditioning, which he derived from his dog, is applied to humans. Skinner, who developed operant conditioning, conducted many experiments on pigeons and rats.

Application of behaviourist assumptions to relationships

How can you apply the above assumptions to engage and build relationships?

Blank slate assumption

It is assumed that the first form of relationship a child develops becomes an internal model for all future relationships. For the assumption of the empty state, we can use Mary Ainsworth’s study as an example, which examined the bonds between mothers and children. The type of attachment children had with their mothers, or primary caregivers later predicted the type of attachment they would form in romantic relationships.

Learning through conditioning assumption

The reinforcement model of attraction states that people form relationships with people or animals that reinforce them. Byrne’s (1971) reinforcement effect model states that people like those present when they are reinforced. Those present are associated with positive reinforcement. This assumption is also found in social exchange theory (link to article) and equity theory (link to article).

Humans and animals learn in similar ways assumption

The third assumption is that humans and animals learn in similar ways. Take the study of Lorenz (1935), who studied the relationship between mother and child using goslings. He divided the goslings into two groups, one hatched with the mother duck and another without the mother duck in an incubator. He ensured that the goslings in the incubator group saw him first after hatching. He observed that these goslings thought of him as their mother, called imprinting. We can also apply the results of this research to human relationships.

Behavioural Therapy Behavioural treatments in psychology, humans and animals learn in similar ways, Lorenz study StudySmarter

Lorenz conducted a study on goslings, results from this research can be applied to human relationships, pixabay.com

Behavioural therapy definition

Behavioural treatment or behaviour therapy relies on behaviourism. The goal is to change unhealthy behaviours the person engages in. Behaviour therapy specifically addresses learned behaviours and how the external environment influences certain behaviours.

Behaviour therapy techniques

The main techniques used in behaviour therapy focus on classical and operant conditioning. A wide range of treatment methods is used in behaviour therapy.

Behaviour therapy can be used to treat conditions such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Panic disorder

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Substance abuse

Behavioural therapy examples

Because behaviour therapy is a broad term, we need to distinguish between the different forms of behaviour therapy in psychology. So what are some examples of behavioural therapy? Let us get to the bottom of this.

Systematic desensitisation

Systems desensitisation is a therapy in which the client is exposed to different levels of phobias. Relaxation techniques are also used in this approach. There are three main steps in this type of behavioural therapy: in the first step, the person becomes familiar with relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualisation, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques. Then a list of fears is created and in a final step, the client is exposed to this series of fears. The series of fears begin with the one that triggers the least anxiety and then increases to the one that triggers the most anxiety.

Aversion therapy

Aversion therapy is a form of behavioural therapy based on classical conditioning. In this therapy, the client will repeatedly associate undesirable behaviours with discomfort. The goal of conditioning is to get the client to associate the undesirable behaviour with the unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings. Aversion therapy treats a range of difficult behaviours, including addiction, alcoholism, angry behaviour, and gambling.

A client undergoing aversion therapy because they want to stop gambling has to create cards with gambling-related and neutral behaviours. The client goes through the cards and receives an electric shock each time he encounters a card related to gambling.

Behavioural therapy for depression

For depression, behaviour therapy involves behavioural activation (BA). Behavioural activation originates in the behavioural therapy model of depression, which assumes that depressive symptoms are behavioural problems due to a lack of positive reinforcement, particularly in the social environment. Thus, the best way to reduce depression is to create a set of positive reinforcements by changing the client’s behaviour and environment. The goal of behavioural activation is to increase the client’s engagement in adaptive activities and instead decrease the activities that maintain depression. BA is a therapeutic intervention that focuses on behavioural changes related to the client’s lifestyle.

Behavioural activation may include activities the client enjoys more in everyday life. Based on this, the therapist helps the client develop social skills or has the client track their own emotions and activities.

Advantages and disadvantages of behaviour therapy

It is important to highlight the benefits of behavioural therapy and note its limitations.

Advantages

  • Behaviour therapy can be considered as effective as medication in treating some mental disorders.
  • Treatment can be completed in a short period.
  • Behavioural therapy is also offered online these days. It offers many self-help resources making it easier to access for people who cannot travel or prefer to follow sessions from home.
  • The skills learned in behavioural therapy can be applied to everyday life at any time, allowing the person to better cope with the mental disorder.

Disadvantages

  • As with any other form of therapy, the client must engage in the entire process of behaviour therapy to benefit from it.
  • The therapist can help the client better achieve their goals, but they also need the client’s cooperation.
  • When behavioural therapy treats anxiety or depression, the client may show more anxious or depressive symptoms at the beginning.
  • Behaviour therapy does not address the root cause of the specific mental illness.

Behavioural Therapy - Key takeaways

  • The assumptions of behaviourism are a blank slate, learning through conditioning, and humans and animals learning in similar ways.
  • The blank slate assumption can be applied to forming relationships because the first relationship we develop with our mother or primary caregiver provides a template for future relationships.
  • The assumption of learning through conditioning can be applied to relationships as people develop relationships with people or animals that reinforce them. People will like those who are present when they are reinforced. Those who are present will be associated with positive reinforcement. This assumption is also found in social exchange theory and equity theory.
  • The assumption that humans and animals learn similarly is evident in Lorenz’s (1935) study of goslings and imprinting, which can also be applied to human relationships.
  • The goal of behaviour therapy is to change unhealthy behaviours that the person exhibits and experiences.
  • Behavioural therapies include systematic desensitisation, aversion therapy, and behavioural activation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Behavioural Therapy

Some behavioural techniques are systematic desensitisation, aversion therapy, and behavioural activation.

An example of behavioural therapy is systematic desensitization, a treatment in which the client is exposed to different levels of phobias. This approach also uses relaxation techniques. There are three main steps: the person will familiarise themselves with a relaxation technique in the first step. After this, they will create a list of fears and as a last step the client is exposed to this series of fears. The series of fears are exposed, starting from the one that gives the least anxiety and then moving up to the one that offers the most anxiety.  

The goal of behavioural therapy is to change unhealthy behaviours that the person is displaying and experiencing. Behavioural therapy will look specifically at learned behaviours and how the external environment influences certain behaviours. The main techniques adopted in behavioural treatment will focus on classic and operant conditioning. 

In terms of advantages, it is possible to say that behavioural therapy can be considered as effective as medication in treating some psychological disorders. Another advantages is that it can be completed in a short amount of time. Behavioural therapy nowadays is also delivered online and offers many self-help resources. Disadvantages, however, are also observed. Like in any other form of therapy, the client will need to commit to the entire behavioural therapy process to benefit from it. The therapist can help the client better achieve the goals, but they will also need co-operation from the client.

The main assumptions of behaviourism are that we are born as a blank slate, and the environment determines all our behaviour. Also, we learn through conditioning, of which there is classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Finally, behaviourism assumes that animals and humans learn in the same way; thus, animal studies can also be applied to humans. 

Final Behavioural Therapy Quiz

Question

Definition of behavioural therapy?

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Answer

Behavioural treatment or behavioural therapy, is an umbrella terms which refers to types to forms of therapy used to treat and cure mental health conditions. The goal of behavioural therapy is to bring a change to unhealthy behaviours that the person is displaying and experiencing

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What symptoms will behavioural therapy treat?

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It will treat symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression etc.

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What is cognitive behavioural therapy?


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Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help with psychological disorders by changing the way the person affected, thinks and behaves. CBT is mainly used for anxiety and depressive symptoms. 


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How CBT works?

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CBT is based on the fact that aspects like, emotions, thoughts and physical sensations are all interconnected and negative thoughts' patterns can trap the person in a vicious cycle

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What are the 3 min keywords of CBT?

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thoughts, feelings and behaviour

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How many sessions are there in CBT? 


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CBT will involve the client seeing a therapist once a week or even twice. The total number of sessions goes from 5 to 20, with each sessions lasting between 30-60 minutes

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What is system desensitisation?

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System desensitisation is another example of behavioural therapy. This type of therapy will involve the client being exposed to different levels of fear

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Which relaxation techniques are involved in system desensitisation?

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Relaxation techniques involved in system desensitisation are: progressive muscle relaxation, visualisation, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation and mindfulness techniques.

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What is aversion therapy?

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Aversion therapy is a type of behavioural therapy that involve a client repeat pairing and unwanted forms of behaviour with discomfort.

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What's the aim of aversion therapy?

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The aim of the conditioning procedure is to lead the client to associate the stimulus with an unpleasant and discomforting sensation

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9 techniques used in behavioural therapy?

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9 important techniques used in behavioural therapy, such as: cognitive restructuring, guided discovery, exposure therapy, journaling and thought records, activity scheduling and behaviour activation, behavioural experiment, relaxation and stress reduction techniques, role playing and successive approximation.

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How to treat depression with behavioural therapy?


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When it comes to depression, behavioural therapy will include behavioural activation (BA), which is usually used to treat depressive symptoms.

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What behavioural activation involves?

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Behavioural activation may involve activities that that client enjoys more on a daily basis. With that as a basis, the therapist will help the client develop social skills or making the client taking track of their own emotions and activities.

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One advantage of behavioural therapy?


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Behavioural therapy nowadays is also delivered online and offers a lot of self-help resources. This facilitate the access for people who cannot travel or prefer following sessions from home.

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One disadvantage of behavioural therapy?

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The therapist can help the client to better achieve the goals but they will also need co-operation from the client.

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What is the definition of Systematic Desensitisation?

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Systematic Desensitisation is a behavioural psychological treatment that treats phobias by increasing the feeling of self control in the patient about the feared object. It aims to associate relaxation with the feared object rather than fear. 

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What is in vivo and in vitro?

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In vivo: Is when it's done in real life/in person and the patient is actually exposed to the stimulus

In vitro: Is when it's done figuratively/using imagination, so the patient is not exposed to the stimulus in person.

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What are the three steps of systematic desensitisation? 



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  1. Fear Hierarchy
  2. Counter-Conditioning
  3. Graduated Exposure

(And sometimes Participant Modelling)

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What is counter conditioning?

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It is the process of replacing the response of fear to the feared object, with the response relaxation, or another positive emotion. This will eradicate the feeling of fear because two opposite emotions can't both exist as the response to any given stimulus, so relaxation will replace fear (reciprocal inhibition) and the phobia will dissipate. 

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What is a fear hierarchy?

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This is a list of exposures that are gradually increasing in the distress they cause and the patient will work through them and practice relaxation techniques (or for a different positive response) at each stage until they no longer feel fear, and instead feel relaxed.


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Why must the levels of the fear hierarchy be decided by the patient and not the psychologist?

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Because only the patient can truly know what will be more distressing to them, and it may be different from what the psychologist suggests, which may cause ethical problems.

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What is the gradual exposure stage?

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Here, the patient is exposed to the different levels of exposure that they came up with in the fear hierarchy, starting with the least distressing. The relaxation techniques they learnt in the counter conditioning stage will be applied here so that the fear response can be replaced with a relaxed response. 

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What is participant modelling?

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Social Learning Theory can be applied in this treatment by showing the patient a role model who is being exposed to the feared stimulus and has a relaxed response. This means the patient can learn this behaviour by watching the role model and help them have a relaxed response to the feared stimulus themselves.


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Wolpe applied systematic desensitisation to a patient with what problem in 1964?

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He applied it to an 18 year old man with an extreme hand washing compulsion. He had the urge after going to the toilet to wash his genitalia for 45 minutes, his hands for 2 hours and showering for 4 hours.  

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Wolpe applied systematic desensitisation to a patient in 1964. What was the outcome?

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At the end of the treatment, in the last stage of the fear hierarchy, a few drops of diluted urine were placed on the patient's hand and he was still calm. 4 years later they did a follow up which found that he no longer had his compulsions. 

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Who applied this treatment using in vitro in systematic desensitisation, and what technique was it?

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Rothbaum et al. (1995) used a VR helmet to show the patient a phobic situation.

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What did Mc Grath et al. (1990)  find as research support?

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Mc Grath et al. (1990) found that systematic desensitisation was effective for 75% of patients with phobias, using in vivo techniques. 

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What did Lang et al. (1963) find as research support?

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Lang et al. (1963) treated students with a snake phobia and did 11 sessions of systematic desensitisation with them. They used hypnosis as a relaxation technique and found that the patients' fear decreased and remained so 6 months later. 

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What is the practical issue of systematic desensitisation about the effectiveness of this treatment for different types of phobias?

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Systematic Desensitisation may be effective for phobias of objects or animals, but not of concepts or situations, e.g. fear of crowds, (However, it could be argued that in vitro systematic desensitisation could fill this gap).

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What is the theoretical issue of systematic desensitisation from a biological psychology perspective?

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- This treatment is based on the concept that fear is learned, so the biological approach would disagree and say that fear is inherited instead and we are born with it, so it should be treated medically. Also, Seligman (1970) argued that humans and animals are programmed to quickly learn to associate fear with dangerous things that can threaten survival, e.g. heights or poisonous animals. 

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What kind of conditioning is aversion therapy based on?

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Classical conditioning

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Fill in the blanks: an _____ is paired with _____ to produce _____ to the behaviour.

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An undesired behaviour is paired with an aversive stimulus to produce an intense dislike (aversion) to the behaviour.

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What can aversive stimulus include?

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Mild electric shocks, drugs that produce unpleasant sensations like nausea, and unpleasant tastes and smells. 

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In the example of alcohol addiction, at first alcohol is a neutral stimulus but after aversion therapy what kind of stimulus does alcohol change into?

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Conditioned stimulus

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When the effects of the aversive stimulus become associated with the undesired behaviour, what kind of response is this?

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Conditioned response

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In the study by Elkins et al. (2017) what percentage of patients were still sober one year after aversion therapy?

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69%

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Why may aversion therapy not be effective in the long-term?

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Aversion may be successful while undergoing the therapy but once the patient is out in the world without the help of the aversive stimulus, it is harder to avoid the undesired behaviour.

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In the study by Smith et al. (1997) did the patients who received aversion therapy have higher abstinence rates after 6 and 12 months than those who received counselling?

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Yes

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What are the ethical issues with aversion therapy?

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Aversion therapy could be considered as using 'punishment' as a form of treatment. aversive stimulus may cause stress, anxiety, humiliation or pain and also causes physical discomfort. There are strict ethical guidelines for working with vulnerable patients, such as those with addictions, patients' addictions may influence their understanding of what the therapy involves. Patients can also stop the therapy at any time but therapists may not make this point clear to them. 

 

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In aversion therapy why is there an unbalance of power between therapist and client?

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Patients are compliant to the therapist undergoing aversive stimulus the therapist prescribes them. 

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According to Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy what causes self-defeating emotional and behavioural consequences?

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Irrational beliefs in response to events

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What are the premises of REBT? 

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- People are not distressed by events but by their irrational beliefs about them.

- Irrational beliefs lead to emotional and behavioural consequences.

- People have a choice to respond to events with irrational or rational thoughts and beliefs, irrational beliefs can also be reframed and replaced in the course of therapy.

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What does rational emotive behaviour therapy treat?


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The therapy can be used in the treatment of mental disorders like anxiety, depression, phobias or addiction, but can also be helpful to people experiencing sleep problems, procrastination, psychosis or help with anger management.  

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What does rational emotive behaviour therapy involve?

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Rational emotive therapy involves identifying clients' irrational beliefs that lead to difficult emotional and behavioural consequences, challenging them to replace them with more self-helping ones. 

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What are techniques of the rational emotive behaviour therapy?


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Three types of techniques are used in rational emotive behaviour therapy - problem-solving techniques, cognitive restructuring techniques, coping techniques.

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What is Rational Emotive Behaviour therapy?

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Rational emotive therapy is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that aims to identify and challenge clients' irrational beliefs that cause them distress and replace them with more self-helping beliefs.

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What are irrational beliefs?

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Irrational beliefs are characterised by being rigid, absolute, inconsistent with reality and illogical. Irrational beliefs lead to dysfunctional behavioural or emotional consequences and prevent individuals to pursue their goals.


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What are the main types of irrational beliefs?

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  1. demands, 
  2. awfulising beliefs, 
  3. low frustration tolerance beliefs 
  4. self/other or life depreciation beliefs

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What type of irrational belief would be "I can't tolerate working with other people"?

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low frustration tolerance belief - client assumes they won't be able to tolerate or cope with a frustrating situation

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What is the ABC model in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy?

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The ABC model in rational emotive behaviour therapy reflects how our irrational beliefs mediate the emotional consequences of adversity. Adversity (A) activates beliefs (B), irrational beliefs lead to difficult emotional consequences (C) and maladaptive behaviours.

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