What is behavioral therapy?
Behavioral therapy is an umbrella term for types of therapy
that treat mental health disorders. This form of therapy seeks to identify and
help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors. It functions
on the idea that all behaviors are learned and that unhealthy behaviors can be
changed. The focus of treatment is often on current problems and how to change
Who can benefit from behavioral therapy?
Behavioral therapy can benefit people with a wide range of
People most commonly seek behavioral therapy to treat:
It can also help treat conditions and disorders such as:
- eating disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- bipolar disorder
- phobias, including social phobias
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- substance abuse
This type of therapy can benefit adults and children.
Types of behavioral therapy
There are a number of different types of behavioral therapy:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is extremely popular. It
combines behavioral therapy with cognitive therapy. Treatment is centered
around how someone’s thoughts and beliefs influence their actions and moods. It often
focuses on a person’s current problems and how to solve them. The long-term
goal is to change a person’s thinking and behavioral patterns to healthier
Cognitive behavioral play therapy
Cognitive behavioral play therapy is commonly used with
children. By watching children play, therapists are able to gain insight into
what a child is uncomfortable expressing or unable to express. Children may be
able to choose their own toys and play freely. They might be asked to draw a
picture or use toys to create scenes in a sandbox. Therapists may teach parents
how to use play to improve communication with their children.
System desensitization relies heavily on classical
conditioning. It’s often used to treat phobias. People are taught to replace a
fear response to a phobia with relaxation responses. A person is first taught
relaxation and breathing techniques. Once mastered, the therapist will slowly
expose them to their fear in heightened doses while they practice these
Aversion therapy is often used to treat problems such as substance
abuse and alcoholism. It works by teaching people to associate a stimulus
that’s desirable but unhealthy with an extremely unpleasant stimulus. The
unpleasant stimulus may be something that causes discomfort. For example, a
therapist may teach you to associate alcohol with an unpleasant memory.
Is behavioral therapy effective?
Behavioral therapy has successfully been used to treat a
large number of conditions. It’s considered to be extremely effective.
percent of people who enter cognitive behavioral therapy experience some
benefits from treatment.
One study found
that cognitive behavioral therapy is most effective when treating:
- anxiety disorders
- general stress
- anger control problems
- somatoform disorders
- substance abuse
have shown that play therapy is very effective in children ages 3 to 12. However,
this therapy is increasingly being used in people of all ages.
Behavioral therapy for children
Applied behavior therapy and play therapy are both used for
children. Treatment involves teaching children different methods of responding
to situations more positively.
A central part of this therapy is rewarding positive
behavior and punishing negative behavior. Parents must help to reinforce this
in the child’s day-to-day life.
It may take children some time to trust their counselor.
This is normal.
They’ll eventually warm up to them if they feel they can
express themselves without consequences.
Children with autism and ADHD often benefit from behavioral
How to find a behavioral therapist
Finding a therapist can feel overwhelming, but there are many
resources that make it easier.
When finding a provider, you can choose from:
- social workers
- faith-based counselors
- non-faith-based counselors
You should make sure that the provider you choose has the
necessary certifications and degrees. Some providers will focus on treating
certain conditions, such as eating disorders or depression.
If you don’t know how to get started finding a therapist,
you can ask your doctor for a recommendation. They may recommend you to a
psychiatrist if they think you might benefit from medication. Psychiatrists are
able to write prescriptions for medication.
Most insurance plans will cover therapy. Some providers
offer scholarships or sliding-scale payment for low income individuals.
A therapist will ask you many personal questions about
yourself. You will know you have found the right therapist if you feel
comfortable talking to them. You may have to meet with several therapists
before you find the right one.