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Behavioral Therapy

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 them.

Who can benefit from behavioral therapy?

Behavioral therapy can benefit people with a wide range of disorders.

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
  • ADHD
  • phobias, including social phobias
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • self-harm
  • 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 ones.

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

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 techniques.

Aversion therapy

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.

About 75 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
  • bulimia
  • anger control problems
  • somatoform disorders
  • depression
  • substance abuse

Studies 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 therapy.

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
  • psychologists
  • psychiatrists

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.

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