Behavioral therapy (or ‘behavioural therapy’ in the UK) deals with changing and eliminating unwanted behaviors.
Behavioral therapy is less concerned with the thoughts and emotions that accompany unwanted behaviors than in other types of therapy such as CBT. Instead, it looks at the motor behavior and how to stop it.
It relates to a theory of learning based upon the notion that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Such conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment. These resultant behaviors can be studied in a systematic and observable manner with no consideration of internal mental states.
You may have heard of the expression, ‘Pavlovs Dogs’, which refers to an old and very famous behavioral experiment conducted with dogs. Each time these dogs were fed, a bell was rung at a very specific frequency. After a few weeks the food was removed, but the dogs would still lap at their dinner bowls when the bell was ringing. In their minds, the two events had become linked.
In short, behavioral theory is about an animal’s adaptation to the environment.
All animals have learned behaviors which assist them in survival. And yes, humans are animals. However, some learned behaviors are not helpful and do not have any positive role in assisting our survival.
How we can help
Fortunately what has been learned can be unlearned – or at least modified.
Behavioral therapy is about utilizing these processes to modify or eliminate unwanted or unhelpful behaviors.
An over-simplified example is wearing an elastic band on your wrist and snapping it whenever you have the urge to smoke a cigarette.
Techniques used in behavioral therapy include aversion stimuli, assertiveness training, desensitization, environment modification, relaxation training, exposure and response prevention, positive reinforcement, modeling and social skills training.
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