What do behavior therapists do?
Behavior therapists begin the treatment process by analyzing a person’s behavior and identifying the negative behaviors that may be affecting that person’s day-to-day life. Think of this step as “taking inventory” before starting to work. The therapist looks for the factors in play that are causing the patient unwanted stress or reducing their quality of life in some significant manner. Once an analysis has been made, the behavioral therapist creates a treatment plan to help the person change his or her behaviors.
No single course of treatment is accepted in the industry as being better than another. Behavior therapists may employ several different techniques as part of a unique treatment plan for each individual.
Behavioral therapists can help people with a wide range of psychological problems including those with:
Obsessive compulsive disorders
Post-traumatic stress disorder (from combat or from other non-combat situations)
Autistic spectrum disorders
Attention deficit disorders
What techniques do behavior therapists use?
The following is a list of some of the techniques that behavior therapists may opt to use by during the course of treatment.
Systematic desensitization - Behavioral therapists use this technique to help people overcome fears and phobias. The technique involves gradually exposing the person to the thing or situation they fear. Behavior therapists guide the individual through a series of small steps that aim to reduce the fear, phobia or anxiety. This technique is particularly helpful for those suffering with phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders; it can also be helpful in treating sexual and anxiety related disorders.
Aversion therapy – This technique, employed by behavior therapists, aims to reduce the frequency of unwanted behaviors by teaching the person to connect an unpleasant or aversive stimulus to the negative behavior; it is a technique that is often used to help people quit smoking, or to help those who overeat to cut down on their intake of unhealthy or fattening foods.
Exposure and response prevention - Exposure and response prevention or ERP is a technique used by behavior therapists that helps treat phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Using this technique in a controlled environment, individuals are exposed to the source or sources of their fear, phobia or the trigger mechanisms for their compulsive behavior. The ‘response’ part of this technique refers to the obsessive behaviors and rituals that people engage in to reduce their anxiety levels. During ERP, individuals learn how to resist their compulsion to engage in these behaviors and rituals until they are eventually able to stop the behaviors completely.
Flooding – Flooding is a technique used by behavioral therapists that is a more rapid or extreme form of systematic desensitization. When using the flooding technique, behavior therapists expose the individual to their fear or phobia in an intense way. In a controlled environment, and with their consent, the individual is made to face their fear but is unable to avoid or escape from the situation. This technique can be useful in treating phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders and post traumatic stress disorder.
Habit reversal training – In habit reversal training, behavior therapists help individuals to eliminate habits such as thumb sucking, skin picking, nail biting, hair pulling (trichotillomania) and tics; it is also useful in helping people to quit smoking or stop overeating. Habit reversal training consists of a number of components that behavior therapists guide their clients through. These include teaching the individual to be aware of their habit, relaxation training (many habits of this kind result from anxiety) and contingency planning i.e. having another strategy or coping technique that the person can use or perform instead of repeating the habit.