Behavioral Therapy: Definition, Types, and effectiveness

Written by Resurchify | Updated on: January 06, 2023

Behavioral Therapy: Definition, Types, and effectiveness

Let us read about Behavioral Therapy here and how it can be useful.

Humans have strong links between their thinking patterns and the way they behave. Sometimes we fail to notice or underestimate the significance of keeping an optimistic attitude irrespective of the circumstances we encounter in our lives. People are susceptible to slipping into negative or dangerous patterns of thinking, specifically when something goes wrong.

Nonetheless, certain individuals have a greater tendency of allowing negative ideas to transform into inappropriate mannerisms. To address these growing mental health concerns nowadays, there are various procedures available. Behavioral therapy is one among the many approaches to psychotherapy which has its different types.

Psychotherapy serves as a guide for psychologists to understand their patients, what problems they are dealing with, and how to resolve their issues. These are not necessarily only beneficial for individuals with psychological problems. Those without any particular signs of mental health illness may also receive benefits from some therapy methods while coping with typical issues and circumstances.

So, What Is Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy is a kind of treatment that aims at recognizing, processing, and changing any possibly dangerous, self-harming, or toxic attitudes. It is founded on the belief that every human behavior is taught, and hence it can be modified into positive practices using several techniques and proper guidelines.

This is an action-oriented strategy. It stresses eliminating emotional turmoil and negative behavior and focusing on the development of new habits for the elimination or reduction of the effects of the problem. This form of therapy is customizable as per its targeted client’s mindset, thinking patterns, ideals, and emotions.

Behavioral therapy originated in the 20th century based on the fundamental concepts of a thought school called behaviorism, which is based on the philosophy that we develop habits based on our surroundings. Among the first people to address the concept of changing behavior was Edward Thorndike. This sort of therapy emphasizes the present situation of its clients and not their past, like other therapy procedures. Ivan Pavlov (and also his dogs) was a well-known behavioral therapist.

A person’s belief system, how he views the world, his self-perceptions, and thoughts about his future, all lead to mental health issues if not channelled in the right direction. Hence, with the help of varied therapeutic tactics, therapists try to help their clients overcome any sort of psychological trauma or negative behavioral tendencies. They speak to their clients in a private and confidential setting, intending to identify their thinking processes and feelings which are contributing to the psychological and behavioral deterioration of their client.

For Whom Is Behavioral Therapy Beneficial?

Methods and principles formulated after decades of research work and experience act as a framework for the sessions between the therapist and the client. Those suffering from the following mental and behavioral issues, both adults and kids, can resort to behavioral therapy-

  • Any kind of phobias
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Panic attack
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Any major life change
  • Anger issues
  • Eating disorder
  • Relationship and interpersonal issues
  • Occupational stress
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Alcohol and substance addiction
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Self-harming issues
  • Borderline personality disorder

These are some examples of a wide variety of other psychological problems which can be treated by any type of behavioral therapy. The practices of this kind of treatment change according to the different kinds of disorders, their intensity, and the different personalities of each individual.

Types of Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy can be classified into various kinds of specialized therapy techniques -

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This is one of the most popular therapy types. It is a combination of behavior therapy which is concerned about the actions of a person, and cognitive therapy which emphasizes the thought process of someone.  The focus of this treatment is how a person’s thoughts, ideals, and feelings impact how they behave, feel, act, and make decisions.

The goal is to look for unhealthy ideas and actions and alter them into something positive, constructive, and healthy for improving the quality of living. The main aim of the therapist is to help their clients to recognize and understand the negative thinking process which leads to a dangerous and depressing mentality. Once the problem is discovered, psychologists guide their patients to think in a more productive and healthy manner.

They help clients in reinforcing their self-awareness, studying and figuring out the actions and intentions of other people, becoming more confident about their abilities, and reassessing negative thoughts logically. It is commonly prescribed for addressing current issues like depression and panic attacks occurring because of any personal loss or traumatic incident.

Research in 2018 showed cognitive behavioral therapy proved to be beneficial for emotional regulation in the case of autistic kids. Another study in 2017  highlighted how this therapy form can increase the connection between multiple locations in the brain which includes the amygdala as well as the frontal lobes.

Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy

This therapy type is generally used for treating children with psychological, psychosocial, or personality disorders. Different kinds of games are used for diagnosing, preventing, and curing any issues a child is facing. During the sessions, therapists ask children to play any game of their choice to get an idea of how the child feels, thinks, and communicates which they are otherwise not comfortable expressing.

The toys they choose and the way they play gives a lot of insight into a child’s mind and troubled emotions.  Using toys and play, therapists bond with children and help them to develop new ways of thinking, behaving, and coping mechanisms. They also educate the child’s parents on how they can use the same method to communicate with their kid better.

Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In this therapy format, similar face-to-face strategies and methods are used as that of cognitive behavioral therapy but here it is provided using specialized applications or computers. Some famous apps of this kind are AnxietyCoach, Smiling Mind, Pacifica, SuperBetter, iCBT, and MoodKit.

So far, this approach has proven to be just as beneficial as conventional cognitive behavioral therapy. A survey in 2018 regarding literature analysis of 64 experiments indicated that computerized cognitive behavioral therapy was of equal success as traditional cognitive behavioral therapy as the patients highly accepted it and got satisfactory results.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

This is a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy that is a mixture of behavioral and cognitive approaches for educating individuals on how to control their feelings in a better way, how to deal with stress, and strengthen personal connections. This treatment teaches people how to live in the present and cope with everyday life struggles.

It was developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to mainly heal borderline personality disorder among other problems which result in suicidal tendencies, depressive thoughts, unsteady interpersonal connections, etc. This therapy includes principles of - practicing mindfulness, reducing the pace of life, keeping a watch on emotional outbursts, limiting impulsive reactions to emotionally disturbing situations, improving personal and social bonds by healthily expressing oneself, and tolerating uncomfortable circumstances. Those receiving this behavioral therapy get training on skills and coping mechanisms to lead a healthy and content life.

Aversion Therapy

This type of therapy is used for treating patients with alcohol and substance abuse issues. The therapist trains the mind of their patient and teaches them to connect a pleasant feeling, which is the urge of consuming any substance with negative or uncomfortable stimuli. Like, an alcoholic may be asked to connect their drinking habits with a terrible memory or a horrifying idea that would prevent them from giving in to the desire of drinking.


This treatment procedure entails exposing people to fear-inducing objects or situations quickly and intensively. It is usually opted for treating phobias. The client won’t be allowed to run away or avoid the scenario throughout the entire session.

Systematic Desensitization

This is one of the many commonly used behavioral therapy techniques for treating several kinds of phobias and anxiety disorders where people learn how to overcome their fear of any object, scenario, or living thing. Therapists use classical conditioning, which includes the utilization of relaxation and breathing strategies to replace their response to fear from a certain phobia.

Classical conditioning involves creating connections between stimuli. It is one of the ways used to modify behavior. It involves aversion therapy, flooding, and systematic desensitization.

After a patient learns these techniques, then exposure therapy is used. Therapists initially assist their clients in breathing and relaxing while concentrating on the fear-invoking factors. Then, gradually the patients are exposed to their source of fear. The intensity of exposure increases slowly, first with less fearful items, and then the most fearful objects are used. This allows patients to practically apply all therapeutic techniques. This form of behavioral therapy helps one in reducing their sensitivity to a particular trigger factor.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Unravelling illogical ideas and managing emotions in a healthy fashion are the main goals of this form of therapy. To figure out if an emotional outburst is rationally compatible with reality, therapists work with their patients to uncover the triggering factor that generates the psychological reaction.

At least, this is helpful for patients in dealing with mental disputes and hurdles in an emotionally sensible way. The focus of this behavioral therapy is to recognize bad and harmful emotions and actions. Clients deliberately oppose such ideas and modify those with much more logical and practical thinking patterns.


This therapy type is about the therapists enacting a non-fearful response to any uncomfortable or challenging situation. Clients by copying the unfazed response of their therapist can reduce their anxiety issues.

Social Learning Theory

This treatment is based on how observational skills assist people in learning. To see others being rewarded or penalized for their conduct can influence people to structure their thoughts and behaviors accordingly.

 Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

In this kind of psychological therapy, a psychotherapist evaluates the behavior of his patient. It is based on the theory of relation frame which prioritizes thinking patterns and language used by people. In this behavioral therapy, individuals learn how to be mindful and techniques of acceptance, with the intent to enhance mental adaptability. Also, strategies are implemented for modifying issues related to conduct and loyalty.

 Classroom Management

Teachers play an active role to promote healthy mannerisms within their students, to prevent any unfavourable thought processes and help them to focus on academic excellence.

 Parent Training

The parents of a child are educated on ways how they can encourage good conduct, prevent bad behavior, and strengthen their bond with the kid. Parents learn how to keep a watch on their children, appreciate and acknowledge them if they behave nicely, create healthy boundaries, and address any wrongdoing. This form of behavioral therapy is very effective for children.

 Peer Intervention

The students’ classmates support each other in addressing behavioral issues. The work of a teacher is to teach the students about encouraging good behavior in academic and social settings. In successfully doing so, students also gain advantages as it reaffirms their healthy actions and improves their feeling of accountability.

 Contingency Management

This therapy technique involves using a formalized written agreement between the patient and therapist (or sometimes parent/teacher) outlining behavioral modification goals, support, prizes, and punishments. These are very successful in causing behavioral modifications because the conditions are highlighted for all the participants so that none of them can deny their commitments.

This form of behavioral therapy comes under operant conditioning which is based on the concept of using rewards and punishments for making any behavioral pattern more or less frequent. Patterns of conduct that lead to favourable outcomes are more likely to be repeated by patients than those bad conduct that results in punishment. Certain strategies like encouraging, punishing, reshaping, imitating, and other similar tactics are used to alter actions as they are highly targeted and can give the desired results quickly and effectively.

Token Economies

This is also a part of operant conditioning, where to change behavior, reinforcement is used. Caregivers and teachers make use of token economies to deal with the kid. A child receives tokens in exchange for good conduct and loses tokens for unwanted actions. Such tokens may be exchanged for presents like sweets, chocolates, candies, toys, or some more time to play with their friends or other games.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

This is a detailed, fact-based treatment procedure. The program comprises one-to-one counselling sessions every week, training classes on group skills each week, group meetings of therapist consultations, and phone call assistance during therapy sessions.

Clients are taught how they can deal with stress by - improving their levels of tolerance for unforgettable situations, learning how to control emotions, how to practice being mindful and improving their communication abilities. Chronic conditions like borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, depressive thoughts, suicidal and self-destructive ideas, etc all have been effectively treated using this form of behavioral therapy.

Based on one 2017 case study, patients with borderline personality disorder showed a significant reduction in initial signs, anxiousness, despair, suicide realted thoughts, and also depression. It is also highlighted that for patients who were a part of a dialectical behavior therapy procedure for an entire year, their general quality of living also improved to a great extent. 

One more kind of this therapy is humanistic therapy which focuses on the good characteristics and actions of its patients to motivate them and for helping them to attain their full potential. The concept originated based on the self-centered perspective of Carl Roger and the hierarchy of needs by Abraham Maslow. Another kind of dialectical behavioral therapy is integrated or holistically designed treatment, which is a synthesis of several theoretical concepts, and methods structured according to the unique requirements of each patient.


Clinical hypnotherapy is a practice of supervised hypnotic treatment. Therapists help their patients to resolve problems and modify bad behaviors by using mental images and recommendations. This also results in helping patients to inspect their unconscious minds in a confidential and secure setting. Hypnotherapy is performed as an additional therapy along with other forms of medicinal and behavioral therapy treatments. 

For treating a wide range of psychological problems like pain management, negative habits, dementia, learning disabilities, communication issues, sexual problems, etc this type of therapy has proved to be a big success. According to a 2017 research, hypnotherapy leads to an instant, substantial, and long-term beneficial impact on patients with anxiety issues suffering from cancer. 

Art Therapy

This form of therapy uses both counsellings as well as psychological expertise to facilitate inventive skills. Mental health experts make use of creative methods like visible art forms, dance, poetry, songs, etc, and this can be conducted with any person, married couple, any group of people, or families.

Therapists use these innovative methods for helping their patients to lower their levels of anxiety, modify their interpersonal skills, control their behavior, encourage self-esteem, resolve conflicts, manage addictions, and other factors. It is discovered that this form of behavioral therapy has proven to be quite efficient while curing detrimental health conditions like cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, depression, dementia, and trauma-related brain injury.

Effectiveness of Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy entails several techniques and variations, all of which have proved to be very successful in the treatment of a variety of mental health issues. Different approaches apart from working effectively, also acknowledge a broad range of psychological problems. Treatment for depressive thoughts, alcohol addiction, severe phobia, anger management problems, stressful behaviors, etc benefits significantly from these procedures. The possibility of significantly diminishing or eliminating signs of mental problems by coordinating with a trained therapist is very high.

The particular type of therapy practiced, the effort given by the patients, the skills of the therapist, and the mental problem which is dealt with also decide how much behavioral therapy is effective. Studies have shown that 67% of individuals who have opted for psychological therapy have experienced certain kinds of positive results to a great extent owing to a reduction in the intensity of the symptoms and effective therapeutic value. Also, beneficial results from cognitive behavioral therapy are usually noticed within 5- 20 sessions. It is inexpensive and has proven to be effective, especially for kids.

However, this doesn’t indicate that the above-mentioned therapy types are the only ones that can treat mental illness. Additionally, it also implies that behavioral therapy is not always the best option. However, treatment of anxiety issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic issues, and phobias is often successful using these forms of treatment.

Research has shown the success rate of this kind of therapy, mainly the use of cognitive behavioral therapy for curing substance abuse. However it varies based on the substance of addiction. Although the above-mentioned therapy form is found to be helpful for particular signs of schizophrenia, it was not beneficial in cases of recurrence and readmission in hospitals in comparison to other forms of therapy.


Hence, the use of behavioral therapy is widespread and this has proved to be greatly successful in healing several kinds of behavioral and mental issues. In case of circumstances when mental discomfort or wrong thinking processes aggravate to create any issue, it becomes very vital for one to understand how their thoughts are contributing to the symptoms for eliminating the anxiety associated with it. Behavioral examination highlights and promotes interpersonal skills, positive interactive patterns, and other activities.

However, a lot of effort and self-restraint is needed for one person to swap his negative thoughts and self-destructive behaviors with positivity and optimism toward a healthy life. A crucial aspect for someone opting for behavioral therapy is to carefully decide and choose any therapist whom they can fully rely upon.

It is best to approach a specific mental health practitioner who has experience in dealing with the specific problem a person is facing. Initially one might be uncomfortable in opening up to their psychologist, but one will quickly realize how it is helpful to reframe thinking patterns, open up to fresh ideas, and guide oneself towards healthy alternatives. It will help them to take charge of their life and be confident.

Thank you for reading!


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  • ‘6 Types of Behavior Therapy Used by Counselors Today’. Wake Forest University. Available from: < >
  • ‘What Is Behavioral Therapy?’ by Kendra Cherry. Verywell mind, November 8, 2022. Available from: < >
  • ‘Behavior Therapy’. 7 Dimensions Medical Centre, October 4, 2021. Available from: < >
  • ‘What Is Behavioral Therapy and Can It Help Me?’. BetterHelp, November 2021, 2022. Available from: < >
  • ‘What Is Behavior Therapy, and Why Is It Important?’. Regis College, October 29, 2021. Available from: < >



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