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How Behavioral Therapy Works – Treatment Types & Techniques

Category: Mental Health
9 minute read.

When people seek help to overcome mental health conditions and substance use disorders, they typically look to treatment centers like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center to achieve their treatment goals. As part of treatment to overcome the symptoms of a mental health condition or to put struggles with drug and alcohol abuse in the past, clients of a treatment center will participate in therapy as part of their comprehensive treatment program. Behavioral therapies are often the most widely used and most effective treatment models.

Part of what makes behavioral therapies so ideal is the fact that they are proven effective across a wide range of conditions and age groups. This also means behavioral therapies are highly effective treatment models to use when addressing co-occurring (dual diagnosis) conditions. Unfortunately, the rate at which dual diagnosis conditions occur is relatively high. It is believed as many as half of those who seek help to overcome various mental health conditions at a professional treatment facility also struggle with a co-occurring substance use disorder. Additionally, a large percentage of those who seek help primarily to overcome a drug or alcohol use disorder also have an underlying mental health condition. A significant reason for this is that many people who struggle with mental health conditions use drugs or alcohol to help manage difficult or challenging symptoms. This often leads to dependency and eventually addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Understanding Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy is more than a singular treatment model. Behavioral therapy is the broad term used to describe several therapy models that are used as part of evidence-based treatment plans in mental health and addiction treatment programs. The goal of behavioral therapies is to help someone struggling with a substance use disorder or mental health condition identify, examine, and inevitably change their thoughts and behaviors. The idea behind behavioral therapies is that harmful and unhealthy behaviors are learned responses, and therefore, they can be changed in favor of healthy and safer thoughts and actions. Behavioral therapies generally focus on one’s current situation and how to make it better.

What are the Types of Behavioral Therapy?

There are several types of therapy classified as behavioral therapies. Indeed some are more widely used than others due to their effectiveness across a wide range of treatment needs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, frequently referred to as simply CBT is likely the most widely used behavioral therapy model. CBT treatments can be effectively applied to most mental health diagnoses. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy is often the first-line therapy for substance use disorders (drug or alcohol addiction). The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help those seeking to recover from their symptoms identify and examine the negative and harmful thoughts and actions that lead to their symptoms. Once those thoughts and actions are better understood, it is possible to change them by learning healthier, safer coping skills that

can be used for symptom management in the future. In addition, the coping skills learned and practiced during treatment will become a crucial part of your relapse prevention plan after treatment ends.

While cognitive-behavioral therapy is highly beneficial as a mental health or substance abuse treatment therapy, it is also highly effective for those struggling with a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis condition. In these cases, individuals seek help at a specialized treatment center where providers are skilled in managing dual diagnosis conditions. A dual diagnosis occurs when you struggle with both an addiction to drugs or alcohol and a mental health condition simultaneously. Significant research has shown that seeking help for both conditions as part of a comprehensive treatment program offers the most significant opportunities for positive treatment outcomes. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is proven effective in helping individuals struggling with dual diagnosis safely and effectively manage their symptoms so they can achieve and maintain lasting recovery.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy or DBT is often called a modified form of CBT. It was initially focused on treatment programs for individuals with borderline personality disorder treatment. However, it has also proven effective in helping individuals with a range of other mental health and substance use disorder diagnoses. The main goal of dialectical behavioral therapy is to help people manage their symptoms by living in the now. By focusing on their current emotions, they can learn healthier ways to manage stress, improve their peer and personal relationships and better regulate emotions through safer coping strategies.

DBT is highly beneficial for individuals who seek treatment to manage mental health conditions characterized by significant emotional regulation problems or self-destructive behaviors. Examples of these may include drug abuse, alcohol abuse, disordered eating, and other behavioral addictions. Dialectical behavior therapy has also shown promise in helping reduce the intensity and severity of symptoms for people struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a form of behavioral therapy that uses different techniques to help individuals struggling with specific disorders face and overcome anxiety or fear-producing things, places, or situations. The goal of exposure therapy is then slowly and carefully help individuals face the source of their fears in a safe and supported way. As part of therapy, you will learn relaxation and anxiety management strategies to use when faced with triggers (fears) so you can address them without experiencing panic or other symptoms. Exposure therapy is a behavioral therapy frequently used for treating specific types of anxiety, such as social anxiety disorder and symptoms related to various phobias.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is another form of cognitive behavior therapy. It is described as an “action-oriented” approach, meaning it encourages people to take action to manage their symptoms. REBT therapy sessions focus on helping patients address and manage the irrational beliefs and emotions that lead to their symptoms. REBT follows the idea that negative things happen when you have irrational or harmful beliefs about yourself (or the environment around you). Rational emotive behavior therapy encourages you to acknowledge your irrational thoughts and then change the negative thinking patterns to overcome the symptoms of a range of mental health conditions.

According to the theory behind the REBT treatment model, behavior, thoughts, and emotions are interconnected. If you understand how the beliefs, behaviors, and feelings you have about situations or events affect you, you can better manage them in a safe, healthy, positive, and more realistic way.

Other forms of behavior therapy that are not as widely used in the mental health or addiction treatment setting include applied behavior analysis, social learning theory, and cognitive-behavioral play therapy. Each form of therapy is beneficial for different needs and individual treatment requirements. It is important to note that not all forms of therapy will work as well for one person as they do for someone else. When seeking help to overcome a substance use disorder or mental health condition, it is important to work closely with your treatment team to ensure the treatment model used is the one that most closely aligns with your treatment needs and goals.

Behavioral Therapy Techniques

Understanding how behavioral therapy works requires understanding the primary tools used in behavioral treatments. The techniques called upon during any form of behavioral therapy are based on long-standing operant and classical conditioning theories.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning focuses on using reward or punishment to either increase or decrease the occurrence of specific behaviors. When using operant conditioning, desired behaviors are followed by positive outcomes and negative or undesirable behaviors by undesirable outcomes. Operant conditioning approaches produce quick and effective results. The most common tools used in operant conditioning treatments include contingency management, behavior modeling, and extinction.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is based on the premise of associating responses with stimuli. A stimulus (or trigger) is presented, and a reaction occurs. Consider the example of a dog with a treat. If a treat is offered and the “sit” command given together multiple times, the dog will inevitably sit when it sees a treat, likely without need for the command. Classical conditioning is a way to alter negative behaviors. There is a range of tools used by therapists to achieve classical

conditioning responses. These include systematic desensitization, flooding, and aversion therapy. Many of these approaches are used to help induvial overcome phobias by slowly exposing them to the source of fear while providing a positive “reward.”

Depending on the condition for which you are seeking help, behavioral therapy may or may not help you meet your treatment needs and goals. It is essential to reach out to a professional treatment center like The Los Angeles Outpatient Center, where members of your treatment team will work with you on a treatment plan explicitly designed around your physical, psychological, and spiritual needs. Treatment models, although highly effective in many cases, are not always beneficial for everyone. This is why cookie-cutter mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs are frequently ineffective. At The Los Angeles Outpatient Center, we understand the most successful treatment outcomes come from personally designed treatment.

When you choose our Los Angeles area treatment center, the first step on your journey to recovery will be an intake assessment. The intake process helps your medical and mental health providers understand your needs and goals as you start treatment to learn to manage mental health symptoms or overcome drug or alcohol addiction challenges. As you progress through treatment, we will continually monitor your progress and, if necessary, alter your plan to ensure it continues to help you heal.

If you or a loved one would like to learn more about the wide range of behavioral therapies and how they may be able to help you, contact our admissions team today. We are here to answer your questions and help you learn more about how treatment at The Los Angeles Outpatient Center can help you start over with a new, healthy outlook.