This form of therapy looks to identify and help change potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors. The focus of treatment is often on current problems and how to change them.
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, which focuses on patterns of action, with cognitive therapy, which focuses on patterns of thought.
Treatment is centered around how your thoughts and beliefs influence your actions and moods. It often focuses on your current problems and how to solve them. The long-term goal is to build thinking and behavioral patterns that help you achieve a better quality of life.
Cognitive behavioral play therapy
Cognitive behavioral play therapy is commonly used as a treatment for mental health conditions in children. By watching a child play, a therapist is 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.
In this form of play therapy, the therapist also takes a more direct approach by working with both the child and the caregivers to teach the child how to cope well and achieve their defined goals. The therapist is doing more than just watching the child play.
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
ACT is a type of psychotherapy that includes behavioral analysis performed by a mental health clinician. While sometimes compared with CBT, ACT has its own specific approach. ACT is based on relational frame theory, which focuses on mental processes and human language.
In ACT, people are taught mindfulness skills and acceptance strategies with the goal of increasing psychological flexibility. Additionally, commitment and behavior change methods are used.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
DBT was created by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help treat the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), an emotional regulation disorder marked by suicidal behavior, depression, unstable personal relationships, and other symptoms.
DBT can also be helpful for conditions other than BPD.
DBT consists of four elements, known as modules:
- core mindfulness
- interpersonal effectiveness, which is used to improve relationships with others and yourself
- emotional regulation
- distress tolerance
People receiving DBT are taught skills and coping strategies to help them lead healthier, happier lives.
Some techniques used in behavioral therapy
Systematic desensitization is a process that helps you to become less sensitive to certain triggers. It relies heavily on classical conditioning, a type of unconscious and automatic learning that creates behavior. It’s often used in the treatment of phobias.
During treatment, you’re taught to replace your fear responses with relaxation responses, which begins with learning relaxation and breathing techniques.
Once you’ve mastered these techniques, your therapist will have you face your fear or fears at slowly increasing levels while you use these techniques.
Aversion therapy is often used to treat disorders like substance use disorder and alcohol use disorder. It works by teaching people to associate a stimulus (something that triggers a response) that’s pleasant 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.