Behavioral health practices focus on the ways that your thoughts and emotions influence your behavior.

“Behavioral health” is a term for a wide-reaching field that looks at mental health, lifestyle, substance use, patterns of behavior, interpersonal relationships, and more.

Behavioral professionals can help people understand their own thought processes, emotional responses, and stress reactions so that they can manage them in healthy, safe, and appropriate ways. This can help people address addictions, change habits, and be better prepared for life’s challenges.

Behavioral health therapy can help people at various life points. Sometimes, people who are handling specific situations, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, find behavioral health therapy very useful.

Behavioral therapy is also often also useful for people with diagnosed mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and anxiety.

“Behavioral health” is a broad term that includes mental health, lifestyle and health behaviors, addictions, substance misuse, stressful and crisis situations, and more.

The word “behavioral” is used because this field of health focuses on the way thought patterns and learned emotional responses can affect how people react to daily life.

For instance, behavioral health professionals can help someone more effectively quit drinking by teaching them to identify the thoughts, feelings, and stressors that lead to them using alcohol as a coping method. The professional can then work with them to find healthier ways to manage those thoughts, feelings, and stressors.

What is the difference between mental health and behavioral health?

The terms “behavioral health” and “mental health” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they’re not exactly the same. Behavioral healthcare focuses on actions a person takes. A behavioral health assessment often includes a detailed look at a person’s mental health, but the focus and the goals of treatment are typically different from what they’d be in a mental health program.

A mental health treatment plan might primarily focus on addressing symptoms such as mood, paranoia, anxiety, lethargy, mania, and delusions. A behavioral health treatment plan will focus on symptoms such as substance misuse, poor personal hygiene, disordered eating, difficult relationships with friends and family, or social isolation.

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Several different types of behavioral health therapies and practices exist. Healthcare professionals may use different types to address different concerns or with different populations.

For example, cognitive behavioral play therapy is a type of behavioral health play therapy designed specifically for children. This type of behavioral health therapy uses play to help children learn communication and coping skills, as well as to help children and their caregivers learn to better communicate with one another.

Other common types of behavioral health therapies include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is used for a wide variety of concerns and conditions. It focuses on how your thoughts influence your mood and your actions, as well as on how you can build thinking patterns that will help you have an improved quality of life. Often, CBT sessions allow people to work through solutions to their concerns with the help of their therapist.
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): ACT is a therapy that uses mindfulness techniques to help people change their behaviors and mindset. Its goal is to help people learn acceptance and flexibility so that they are able to face new and challenging situations when they occur.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT): DBT is most commonly used as a treatment for borderline personality disorder, but it can be helpful for a wide range of other concerns and conditions. This treatment helps people improve skills such as emotional regulation, interpersonal communication, and stress tolerance in order to improve their quality of life.
  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a treatment used for conditions such as anxiety and trauma. It involves exposing people to feared situations in a safe and controlled manner so that they can manage the situation and their fear.

Behavioral health therapy is useful in a variety of situations. Some people find behavioral health therapy helpful during challenging life moments, such as job stress, divorce, dealing with an illness, family difficulties, or after the death of a loved one.

Behavioral health therapy can also be useful for many diagnosed conditions, including:

A behavioral health specialist can help you manage your health and address concerns like addiction and difficult relationships with others.

If you’re interested in trying out a behavioral health program, you can find a behavioral health specialist in a few ways. For instance, you can:

  • See what your insurance company offers: If you have health insurance, behavioral health coverage is likely offered. You can check your plan’s website or give them a call to see what your options are.
  • Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) hotline: SAMSHA runs a free hotline you can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that will help you find behavioral health services in your area. You can reach them by calling 800-662-4347 or by using the online treatment locator.
  • Ask your doctor. Your healthcare professional might be able to recommend local behavioral health specialists.
  • Use Healthline: The Healthline FindCare tool can be used to find behavioral health and other mental health specialists in your area.

Through behavioral therapy techniques such as CBT, DBT, and ACT, people can learn ways to manage their thoughts and emotional responses and ways to develop healthy behaviors in response.

This can help break addictions, treat disorder eating, navigate difficult family relationships, change destructive stress responses, build better coping mechanisms, and more.

Your doctor might be able to help you find a behavioral management specialist. You can also check with your insurance provider or try contacting SAMSHA.