What is Behavior Therapy? (10 Therapy Techniques)

What is Behavior Therapy? (10 Therapy Techniques)

What is Behavior Therapy?

Behavior therapy is a therapeutic approach that aims to change problematic behaviors. It is based on the principles of learning and conditioning – that we learn behaviors through our environment, experiences, and consequences.

The goal of behavior therapy is to replace harmful behaviors with more positive and helpful ones. It does this by using techniques to change behaviors and teach new skills.

History of Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy has its roots in the early 20th century work of psychologists like Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner. Pavlov discovered classical conditioning, Watson popularized behaviorism, and Skinner expanded on operant conditioning.

In the 1950s and 1960s, researchers like Joseph Wolpe and Hans Eysenck began applying behavioral principles to the treatment of phobias and other mental health issues. This laid the foundation for behavior therapy as we know it today.

What Happens in Behavior Therapy

There are several key things that tend to happen during behavior therapy:

  • Assessment – The therapist will evaluate the problematic behaviors and what’s causing or triggering them.
  • Goal setting – The client and therapist will set specific goals for behavior changes.
  • Skill building – The client learns new skills to replace problem behaviors.
  • Practice – The client practices new skills and behaviors in session and at home.
  • Support – The therapist provides support and feedback as the client works towards goals.

Techniques Used in Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapists use a variety of evidence-based techniques to help clients. Some common techniques include:

  1. Exposure Therapy – Confronting fears in a gradual, controlled way.
  2. Cognitive Restructuring – Identifying and changing distorted thinking patterns.
  3. Modeling – Learning behaviors by observing others.
  4. Role Playing – Practicing skills through simulated interactions.
  5. Relaxation Training – Learning techniques to activate the body’s relaxation response.
  6. Contingency Management – Using reinforcement and rewards to shape behavior.
  7. Self-Monitoring – Having clients track their own behaviors and symptoms.
  8. Social Skills Training – Building communication and interpersonal skills.
  9. Problem Solving – Learning a step-by-step process to solve issues.
  10. Assertiveness Training – Learning to stand up for oneself respectfully.

When is Behavior Therapy Used?

Behavior therapy is very versatile and has been used effectively to treat a wide variety of mental health disorders and problematic behaviors such as:

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Depressive Disorders
  • Eating Disorders
  • Substance Abuse
  • Trauma Disorders
  • Personality Disorders
  • Anger Control Problems
  • ADHD

It is also commonly used in schools, workplaces, and personal development training.

The Effectiveness of Behavior Therapy

A wealth of research has found behavior therapy to be highly effective for a wide range of mental health issues. It has a strong evidence base and tends to produce longer lasting results compared to medication alone.

However, behavior therapy does require effort, practice, skill building, and a willingness to change from the client. Progress depends on their level of commitment and engagement in the process.


What is an example of behavior therapy?

An example of behavior therapy is exposure therapy for anxiety or phobias. This involves gradually exposing someone to a feared situation or object in a controlled, safe way to help them overcome their fear.

How long does behavior therapy take to work?

Most clients see some benefits from behavior therapy within 6-12 sessions. But creating lasting change in deeply engrained behaviors or long term mental health issues often takes longer term treatment over months or years.

What is the main goal of behavior therapy?

The main goals of behavior therapy are to replace harmful, maladaptive behaviors with more positive and helpful ones. It aims to improve overall functioning and quality of life.

How is behavior therapy different from other therapies?

Behavior therapy is focused primarily on directly changing problematic behaviors rather than on insight or self-awareness like psychodynamic therapy. It also emphasizes current determinants of behavior rather than past history like some other therapies.

Who typically provides behavior therapy?

Behavior therapy is typically provided by licensed mental health professionals who have specialized training, including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed therapists, or clinical social workers.