Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy is a general term used to describe a variety of structured, goal-directed therapeutic approaches aimed at eliminating maladaptive or negative behavior patterns and replacing them with more positive, healthier ones, using a variety of specific training methods and techniques.

The first phase of many types of behavior therapy involves a self-monitoring process in which the clients keep an exacting log of their own behaviors, typically in the form of a written or electronic record. Clients and their therapist establish a set of specific goals that will create progressive behavior change. The therapist's role is often viewed as being similar to that of a coach or teacher who gives the client specific programmed tasks for each week, sometimes referred to as homework assignments, and provides advice and encouragement regarding progress. Weekly behavior log review provides a visual tool for monitoring progress and noting areas of challenge or unhealthy pattern continuation, as well as a means of pointing out and reinforcing successes. Another tool used involves roleplay with the therapist of desired new behaviors or ways of interacting in different settings. For example, if a client had a difficult time finding employment due to difficulty performing well on job interviews, leading to avoidant behavior, the therapist might role-play various interview scenarios with the client until the client became comfortable enough with in-office practices to try to apply for jobs and go to interviews in real-life settings. Behavior therapists use ongoing monitoring and evaluation of therapeutic progress in order to modify treatment programming so as to maximize effectiveness of the interventions.

Human behavior is typically motivated and reinforced by positive outcomes. This process is sometimes used in behavior therapies by having the client generate a self-reward for achieving a specific goal. In the example above, a reward might be engaging in a preferred activity, such as going to a movie with friends, as a reward for accomplishing a certain number of job interviews without cancellation or failure to appear. Having the client choose the reinforcing object or event increases its positive value.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a widely popular and highly successful brief, solution-focused, evidence-based approach that uses the identification of negative, distorted, or inaccurate patterns of thinking and belief and examining the link between those patterns and their resultant actions. By so doing, it is possible to engage in a therapeutic process in which the client can substitute positive thoughts and beliefs, leading to the adoption of positive and rewarding/ reinforcing behaviors and actions. The metatheory holds that becoming aware of the interaction between thoughts, beliefs, and behavior allows the client to engage in a therapeutic process of identifying undesired thinking patterns and shifting them to positive ones. The theory holds that shifting to positive beliefs will lead to positive behavior shifts. This approach is used often with adolescents and young adults, with particular success in addressing eating disorders, substance abuse, and mood disorders (especially anxiety and depression).

See also Behavior modification ; Cognitive behavior therapy; Operant conditioning ; Thorndike, Edward.



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