Behavioral therapy is a broad psychological term that refers to clinical psychotherapy that uses elements of behaviorism and cognitive psychology. Behaviorism itself is a discipline of therapy that works on the premise that we learn from our environments. Other types of therapy are rooted in the idea of insight – where the patient learns more about themselves and their mental triggers.
Behavioral therapy instead looks at actions and how the brain controls them. In behavioral therapy, the underlying understanding is that efforts are backed up by the mental impetus to perform them. Thus, by controlling the cognitive functions that cause the actions, a person can minimize or altogether avoid giving in to certain harmful behaviors.
What Is Behavioral Therapy?
Behavioral therapy was initially conceived by the ancient Greeks and forms part of the doctrine of Stoicism, which came to prominence around the third century BC. The modern development of behavioral therapy can be traced back to Edmund Thorndike around 1911. Early research in the 1940s and 1950s coined the term behavioral therapy, which persisted to this iteration of the practice. The core practice of behavioral therapy works by promoting positive behavior through reinforcement and condemning maladaptive behavior through extinction (making the individual stop the behavior).
Towards the second half of the twentieth century, behavioral therapy was married to cognitive therapy to create a hybrid methodology. The mental component showed great promise in achieving the researchers’ outcomes in a few situations. Unfortunately, there were also situations where the combination therapy showed little promise. The methodology was adapted and refined to include functional analysis and clinical formulation to deal with this shortfall. Combining these methodologies led to a more well-rounded theory that is currently applied.
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What Are the Types of Behavioral Therapies?
It might be tempting to think that there is only one particular type of behavioral therapy, but that would be wrong. There are, in fact, several different types of behavioral therapy that span multiple disciplines. Among these are:
- Applied Behavior Analysis: This method uses operant conditioning to reinforce good behavioral characteristics while reducing the urges to perform bad actions.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This approach focuses on the thoughts that may lead to negative actions and how to control those thoughts to stop those actions from occurring.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): A combination of behavioral and cognitive techniques similar to CBT, but helps individuals manage their emotions and improve their interpersonal relationships
- Exposure therapy: This technique uses behavioral training to help a person deal with their fears and sources of their anxiety by exposing them to those sources over time.
- Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT): This method looks at destructive thoughts and feelings and asks the patient to challenge them and replace them with a more rational approach.
- Social Learning Theory: This approach looks at how people learn through observing things. Looking at others being rewarded or punished could shape the patient’s behavior to suit.
Common Uses for Behavioral Therapies
Behavioral therapies have been utilized to treat many psychological disorders and conditions. It’s also useful in treating the psychological aspect of addiction and has seen a lot of promise in this area. Among the disorders it has been used to treat are:
- Bipolar disorder
- Alcohol and substance abuse disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Eating disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Behavioral therapy seeks to drive the user towards action. A problem-focused methodology supports this action-oriented approach. Behavioral therapies ask the question, “How can we help the patient with their problem?” Then, using this as a thesis statement, they work out the behavioral and cognitive components associated and train the patient how to control one with the other.
The Substance Abuse and Conditioning Connection
Classical conditioning has been one of the core tenets of psychology through the ages. Thanks to Pavlov’s research with dogs, we now understand what conditioning is and how it can be used. In addiction recovery, the goal is to leave the substance behind. The first step in addiction is detoxification, which breaks the physical dependence on the drug. However, following this stage, psychological elements may drive a person back into using the substance. From what we understand about classical conditioning, these triggers are cues that the brain associates with the drug. The brain works primarily on association. These associations can create links that could potentially lead to a relapse.
However, just like classical conditioning can work to create these links, it can work to replace them. Pavlov deduced that conditioning tended to fade if there was no reward associated with the stimulus. So, over time, the brain would no longer see the two as being linked and decouple them. One of the behavioral therapies based on this idea is cue exposure therapy. When a person has a conditioned link between two things, exposing them to healthy behavior without the unhealthy one can lead to a decoupling of the connections between them. Aversion therapy also uses classical conditioning, but in the opposite way. The person is exposed to an unpleasant experience and learns to associate it with an unwanted behavior. The brain forms that link, and in the future, the body is conditioned to respond to the undesirable behavior with the unpleasant experience. The result is that the person feels an aversion to doing the behavior.
Benefits To Behavioral Therapy Approaches
Behavioral therapy is helpful in many different areas. Recently, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has become the “gold standard” in treating several disorders. CBT also offers users many benefits when they decide to use it to overcome their conditions. Among the benefits that CBT can provide to a patient include:
It Gives Patients a Sense of Hope
In many cases, individuals with mental health conditions feel pessimistic about it. This state of mind exacerbates the problems that the mental health condition might cause. CBT empowers individuals to notice that they have agency in their mental health. This allows them to have some hope in overcoming their mental health conditions and resuming a regular, everyday life.
It Helps Patients Relax
Behavioral therapies can help a person respond to their symptoms. One of the approaches is ensuring that the patient can relax and objectively identify their problem before dealing with it. The relaxation element is crucial to successful behavioral therapy and forms a core part of the discipline.
It Helps to Build Self Esteem
Many mental health conditions have self-esteem as a casualty. It’s a vicious cycle that sees the patient think terribly of themselves, which leads them to doubt their self-esteem. Behavioral therapy can disrupt this cycle by finding those negative thoughts and teaching the patient to notice their impact on mental health. This recognition can help reinforce and protect a patient’s self-esteem by breaking the negative thought cycle.
It Creates a More Rational Thought Process
One of the positive side effects of behavioral therapy is being more rational with one’s thought process. The questioning nature that one gets from CBT can carry over into one’s life, allowing a person to be more reasonable in their decision and rely less on emotional triggers. Negative thoughts don’t have a chance to take root, and using a more rational approach to life makes decisions much more accessible.
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How does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
CBT is among the most successful behavioral therapy methods for many different conditions. CBT allows patients to spot negative and unrealistic thoughts and see how they influence their behavior. To this end, a handful of tenets form the core of how CBT works. These are;
- Identification: The patient identifies the troubling situations of conditions that happen. This could be from a medical condition or from a person’s substance use disorder.
- Emotional Awareness: At this stage, the patient should be aware of the emotions and beliefs tied to those situations or conditions. The patient can then explore them and figure out what sort of behaviors they lead to.
- Negative Thinking Cognition: The therapist would ask the patient to look at their emotional, physical, and behavioral responses to these adverse events of troubling situations.
- Challenge Thinking: The therapist will next ask the patient to question whether their thoughts are logical and factual. This approach lets the patient see that their thinking may not be entirely rational and allow them to adjust it.
- Challenge Beliefs: The goal of CBT is to replace negative thoughts, which lead to adverse actions, with positive thoughts. As a result, the patient no longer gets the urge to participate in harmful activities.
Limitations Of CBT And Other Behavioral Therapies
Despite their usefulness, there are several limitations for behavioral therapies. Among the limitations that behavioral therapies run into are:
Not Sufficient for Complex Mental Health Conditions
CBT and other behavioral therapies work well with some conditions. However, in other cases, such as in treating schizophrenia, or severe depression, behavioral therapies need to be accompanied by medication. Other therapeutic treatments will also be necessary to deal with a complex mental health problem. While behavioral therapy is crucial in helping clients cope with certain aspects of these conditions, it requires more profound treatment to overcome them fully.
Doesn't Account for Underlying Problems
Because of its approach of action-oriented methodology, CBT doesn’t account for the underlying problems that may exist that lead to mental health conditions. The focus on current issues may help to alleviate the problems for a while, but they’re a stopgap measure. The only way patients with these problems can genuinely overcome them may be by using other therapeutic methods to deal with their underlying issues.
Lacks a Holistic View of the Bigger Picture
Behavioral approaches focus on an individual working to overcome their problems. Unfortunately, because the approach is solely focused on the individual, it lacks nuance for interpersonal relationships. These relationships might be a significant factor in contributing to the person’s condition. Ignoring or avoiding them may lead to the problem recurring over time.
Behavioral therapies are a worthwhile approach for many conditions, including substance use disorder recovery. However, it’s not a universal problem solver. Some issues may need different strategies in combination to overcome them.
Achieving Goals with A Behavioral Approach
Goal-setting is a crucial part of behavioral therapy. Without a goal, a patient doesn’t know what constitutes overcoming their problem. Figuring out a goal also allows the patient to grasp the situation better. Goal-setting follows some well-defined steps:
- Identify the Goal: What is it that the patient wants to achieve?
- Figure Out the Starting Point: Where is the patient currently in their treatment?
- Sort Out the Steps: How does the patient get from their current situation to the goal?
- Get Started: Execute the first step in the plan.
Goals shouldn’t be too large at the start. The best way to approach goal-setting in this context is to keep the goals concise and don’t overextend. Patients should keep the steps small and achievable to make real progress through their time. Visible progress helps to keep the patient motivated and striving for their overall goal. The therapist should also consider potential obstacles for the patient and help them overcome those bit by bit as well.
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A Healthy Support System and Mental Health
Mental health requires a proper support system for long-term recovery. Because many people’s mental health conditions are caused or exacerbated by their environment, patients sometimes need to find somewhere new to have a climate more conducive to recovery. Support systems can be developed over time, either with a therapist or wi5th a group that might meet to discuss mental health issues. Both of these serve their own purposes in helping people deal with their mental health issues.
Behavioral therapy is a critical component in giving a person the tools to overcome their mental health issue. At South Shores Recovery, we have a professional staff trained in the art of behavioral therapy. Let us help you overcome your mental illness for a brighter tomorrow. Give us a call today to find out more.