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What is Behavioral Therapy?

Is behavioral therapy an effective treatment for anxiety, OCD, bipolar, and more? Read on to find out.

What is Behavioral Therapy?

When we think of common types of therapy, behavioral therapy is likely one of the first types that come to mind. Behavioral psychotherapy refers to a broad scope of therapeutic techniques to correct maladaptive behaviors.

Behavioral therapy is centered around the principles of behaviorism, which suggest that we learn from the environment around us. Unlike other types of therapy that focus inward, behavioral therapy is action-based, and the goal of behavior therapy is on outward, actionable changes.

Origin of Behavioral Therapy

The father of behavioral therapy is Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, whose work was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s. You may recognize his last name — he is the psychologist behind “Pavlov’s Dog,” where he showed that dogs could be conditioned to salivate at the sound of a bell.1

Pavlovian conditioning is one early component of behavioral therapy. American psychologist B.F. Skinner also popularized behavioral therapy in the United States throughout the mid-1900s.

Goal of Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral psychotherapy can be used to treat many conditions and is widely used. Because the goal of behavior therapy and behavioral counseling is to be problem-focused and action-oriented, it can be instrumental in treating specific, changeable problems like anger issues or stress management.

What Are the Different Types of Behavior Therapy?

There are several types of behavioral therapy. The type of therapy used depends on different factors, including a person’s symptoms or condition and the severity of their situation.

Behavioral Therapy Opportunities

Examples of behavioral counseling include:

  • Applied behavior analysis uses a process called operant conditioning to change problematic behaviors. Operant conditioning can modify the strength of a certain behavior by reinforcing the behavior or punishing it.2 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) combines behavioral techniques with a cognitive focus; in this type of therapy, psychologists will emphasize the problematic thoughts behind problematic behaviors. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral play therapy is typically used with children. The therapist uses play to assess and understand the individual’s psychosocial challenges.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT that combines behavioral and cognitive techniques to help people. It’s often used to treat personality disorders and interpersonal conflict.
  • Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral counseling that exposes people to the source of their fears(s) while practicing calming techniques to lessen the fear around a specific situation. It helps treat anxiety, OCD, and other phobias. 
  •  Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a type of therapy that identifies harmful or destructive thoughts and feelings. Individuals will then challenge unhelpful thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.
  • Social learning theory focuses on how people learn through observation. Individuals may change their behavior by seeing others get rewarded or punished for their actions. 

Behavioral Therapy Interventions

How exactly does behavioral counseling work? A behavioral counselor's treatment approach may vary based on individuals' circumstances, but there are some common techniques that many therapists utilize. The behavioral therapy model is based on classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is a behavioral treatment approach to altering behavior that involves forming associations between stimuli. This means that the therapist will "train" an individual to react in a new way to previously neutral stimuli. Eventually, an association is formed between the individual and the stimuli, allowing for new reactions.3 

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy is another behavioral treatment approach for changing behavior. With this technique, therapists will pair the negative behavior with an unpleasant stimulus hoping that the negative behavior will be reduced. 


Flooding is another popular behavioral therapy intervention. In this case, behavioral counselors will expose individuals to their fear or phobia quickly and intensely. This rapid exposure prevents the person from avoiding or escaping the situation; in this situation, facing the phobia can serve to reduce or lessen the fear around it.

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization is another behavioral treatment approach. With this approach, individuals list their fears and are then taught to relax while thinking about these fears. Often individuals will start with the least-frightening fear and work their way up to their most difficult fear. This technique can help treat anxiety disorders and phobias.

Operant Conditioning

This behavioral approach to therapy focuses on using reinforcement or punishment to increase or decrease a specific behavior. Behaviors followed by positive reinforcement are more likely to occur, while those followed with punishment are less likely to occur.4 

Operant Conditioning Techniques

Some techniques involved in this approach include:

  • Contingency management
  • Extinction
  • Behavior modeling
  • Token economies
Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral Therapy

Who Benefits from a Behavioral Approach to Therapy?

Modern behavioral therapy effectively treats a wide range of psychological conditions. Some of these include:

This type of therapy can also be helpful for individuals who want to manage stress and anger issues. The goal of behavior therapy is to produce positive changes in a short amount of time.

Is Behavioral Therapy Effective?

One of the benefits of behavioral therapy is that behavioral treatment is very effective. Over 75% of people who participate in cognitive behavioral therapy report benefits from the treatment. A 2012 study suggests that behavioral therapy is most effective at treating the following conditions:5

  • Anxiety disorders
  • General stress
  • Bulimia
  • Anger issues
  • Depression
  • Somatoform disorders (in which bodily symptoms are experienced without an underlying physical cause)

Learn More with Anew Treatment Center

Are you interested in a behavioral approach to therapy? If so, Anew Treatment Center may be the place for you. At Anew Treatment Center, you receive high-quality care tailored to your unique needs. Our team offers intensive mental health support using a holistic approach. 

Anew Treatment Center is committed to providing sustainable changes, not quick-fix solutions that perpetuate harmful cycles. Offering a luxury detoxification program, healing residential inpatient treatment, and in-depth, dual-diagnosis care, Anew is a treatment center that guarantees you compassionate, quality care and the modern behavioral therapy treatment you're looking for.

Learn More About Our Treatment Programs

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