Behavioral therapy (also referred to as “behavior therapy” and “behavior modification”) is a type of therapy that uses learning principles to help clients change or eliminate unwanted or unhealthy behaviors. The process includes identifying the counterproductive behaviors and developing strategies to replace these actions with healthier ones.
Behavior therapy can be incorporated into comprehensive treatment programs for individuals who are struggling with a range of issues and disorders, including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), compulsive gambling and addictions to alcohol and other drugs.
The following are four examples of behavioral therapy:
Biofeedback emphasizes the mind-body connection by providing clients with data about the performance of their bodies (for example, heart rate information). In addition to increasing clients’ understanding of their biological responses to stimuli such as stressful situations, biofeedback also helps them develop strategies (such as breathing exercises or relaxation techniques) that will allow them to exert greater control over their bodies and minds.
Contingency management is a therapeutic reward system in which positive or desired behaviors “earn” the clients privileges or other benefits, while negative or undesirable actions are either ignored or lead to the denial of rewards. For example, clients in methadone maintenance who successfully passes a series of drug tests might earn the privilege to receive take-home doses instead of having to visit the clinic every day.
Exposure therapy involves experiencing a potentially triggering or otherwise stressful situation in a safe and professionally supervised environment. For example, a person who is struggling with a fear of flying might visit an airport and tour an airplane in the company of a therapist who can talk the client through the experience.
As its name implies, modeling involves allowing the client to benefit from watching a person behave in a way that the clients wants to be able to behavior. For example, if a client is struggling to overcome a fear or phobia, he or she may watch another person engage in the activity that the client fears – and witness that no negative repercussions follow that behavior – in an effort to help the client develop the ability to engage in that behavior as well.