Behavior therapy has its roots in the study of the learning process in humans and animals. It is not derived from a particular theory. Behavior therapies apply the principles of conditioning and reinforcement to modify undesirable behavior patterns associated with mental disorders.

Basic Theme of Behavior Therapy:

Behavioral therapists argue that abnormal behaviors are acquired in the same way as normal, through a learning process. All pathological behaviors can be best understood and treated by focusing on the behavior itself, rather than by attempting to alter any underlying disease core.

The unique aspect of this therapy is that it is directed toward a modification of behavior, rather than a cure of something within an individual.

Goals of Behavior Therapy:

Its focus on changing target behavior. Psychologists identify the actions or events that explain why an individual persists in certain behavior.

Functional Analysis:

The therapist and client decide together which problem needs to be treated first. It is considered a sort of agreement. As therapists evaluate the behavior and the antecedents and consequences associated with it. They identify causes of behavior and make hypotheses about what factors contribute to controlling the behavior.

Behavioral Assessment:

All the details of the client’s problem and situation are determined. The emphasis on behavioral assessment is current rather than past behavior. information about a client is gathered through interviews, self-reports, ratings, checklists, and observations. Different assessment techniques are helpful in this regard. For example, many scales are designed to assess depression.

Techniques of Behavioral Therapy

Following are the behavior modification techniques based on the principles of classical and operant conditioning and Bandura’s Social learning theory.

Systematic Desensitization

This technique was developed by Wolpe (1958). He designed this therapy for extreme anxiety or fear toward specific events, people, and objects. This therapy consists of two procedures. Which must be completed before the actual therapeutic procedure, they are;

1-Relaxation Training:

It involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups including arms, face, neck, shoulders, chest, stomach, and legs to achieve a deeper level of relaxation. Ten to fifteen minutes twice a day are required to get relaxation training. The client learns to relax one muscle after another until he reaches a drowsy state. 

2-Hierarchy Building

After getting detailed information about the client’s target behavior hierarchy is prepared. Systematic desensitization is usually used to treat phobias or anxiety. In such cases hierarchy is constructed about the phobic object or anxiety-provoking situation.


When hierarchy is established and the client learns to relax then the actual therapy begins. The client is asked to lay down in a completely relaxed position and imagine a neutral situation, just to check the relaxation level. Then the list of hierarchy is presented to the subject to imagine one by one the problem situation and keep relax during this imagining process.

Flooding Technique

In imaginal flooding, the client is exposed to the mental image of a frightening anxiety-producing object or event and continues to experience the image of the event until the anxiety gradually diminishes. This exposure is arranged not to the actual situation but an image of a frightening situation.

The therapist asked the client to imagine the situation again and again with continual exposure the subjective unit of discomfort scale should be reduced to a point where discomfort is no longer experienced. The client indicates his comfort ratings to each situation then the therapist makes him imagine the situation until they no longer create anxiety.

Implosive Therapy

In this technique, the scenes are exaggerated rather than realistic. Stampfl makes use of the client’s description of the scene as well as a psychoanalytic interpretation of the scene with much exaggeration. Instead of experiencing a gradual step-by-step progression, a client is exposed at the start to the most frightening stimuli at the top of the anxiety hierarchy but in a safe setting.

Behavior Therapy technique Based on Operant Conditioning

With the application of operant conditioning principles, behavior therapists reinforce desired behavior while withholding the reinforcement for undesired behavior. These principles are used to solve specific behavior problems, so they are called behavior modification techniques.

1- Positive Reinforcement

This technique is used for behavior modification. When a response is followed immediately by a reward, the response tends to be repeated and will increase in frequency. It becomes a therapeutic strategy when it is applied to modifying the frequency of emission of a desirable response.

2- Token Economy

When patients display appropriate behavior, they receive a token or any symbol like a coin. For example, when clients are performed desirably, wash their face, brush their teeth, eat properly, and behave cooperatively, they are awarded tokens.

Later they can exchange tokens in various rewards, such as candy, cake, ice cream watching T.V.

Therapists use tokens to shape behavior in a step-by-step manner.

3- Aversive Technique

This technique is based on negative reinforcement. It is the reverse of systematic desensitization. Therapists try to replace a positive response to a harmful stimulus with a negative or aversive response.. in this technique unwanted behavior is associated with unpleasant feelings.

This technique is very helpful in drug addicts, in treating an alcoholic, therapists offer appealing drinks laced with a drug, that produce severe nausea. The therapist transforms the alcoholic’s reaction to alcohol from positive to negative in the form of nausea.

4- Extinction

This technique is useful in therapy when inappropriate behaviors have been maintained by unrecognized reinforcing circumstances. Those reinforcers are identified by a careful situation analysis. After that, a program is arranged to withhold them in the presence of the undesirable response. When this approach is possible, the behavior becomes less frequent and is eventually extinguished.

5- Response Prevention Technique

Compulsive reaction responses are treated with this method. Those responses are usually painful for the patients, but he cannot get rid of them. In this technique, unpleasant responses or activities are blocked or hindered in such a manner that he becomes irritated and stops doing them.

For example, if a patient is compulsive with handwashing if some dust is sprinkled on his hands after each wash. He will become upset and eventually stop hand washing.

6- Satiation Technique

In this method, the client’s inappropriate or unpleasant habit is targeted. The client is forced to repeat that habit so many times that he becomes fed up and stops doing. This technique is very helpful in daily life also.

Those who are crazy with playing. Then this crazy player is asked and forced to play continuously for hours and hours without any rest or a little rest, he will become tired. this punishment-type situation will stop his inappropriate behavior.

7- Response Shaping Technique

This technique is based on Skinner’s operant conditioning. The main idea of this technique is that inappropriate behavior can be stopped gradually and replaced by an appropriate one. This technique is specifically used for mentally restarted children. It can also be used on animals.

8- Social Skill Training

In this technique, positive and appropriate behavior patterns are promoted. People can learn self-assertion techniques also. They can learn better habits; can get rid of inappropriate responses. Different social skill training programs have been applied to a wide variety of populations, such as children psychiatric patients, and spouse abusers.

9- Assertiveness Training

It is similar to social skill training groups; assertiveness training groups are designed for those who have difficulty in expressing negative feelings such as anger and disagreement. There are two objectives of this training, First one is related to learning, how to identify and discriminate among assertive, aggressive, and passive behaviors. Individuals are taught to differentiate between these behaviors through demonstration or role-playing.

Group Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy can be used as group therapy. A variety of group programs have been used for most psychological disorders. Sometimes groups are supplemented to individual therapy, at other times they are the only treatment.

In behavioral group therapy, clients share some degree, compatible target behavior. For example, a group could be the focus on anxiety reduction. Even though the specific target behavior of every member is varied, yet the techniques used to bring about change would be similar.

Modeling Technique

The therapeutic use of modeling is based chiefly on the work of Bandura. It occurs when a client observes the behavior of another person and makes use of that observation.

There are five basic functions of Modeling:

  1. Teaching
  2. Prompting
  3. Motivating
  4. Reducing Anxiety
  5. Discouraging

Anxiety reduction can occur by all these methods. In a therapeutic situation, these five functions are combined to varying degrees in live, symbolic, participant, and covert modeling as well as in role-playing.

Live Modeling: basically, live modeling refers to watching a model, sometimes the therapists perform a specific behavior. Modeling is repeated several times and then the client is asked to repeat the observed behavior several times.

Symbolic Modeling: often a live model is not available or would be inconvenient, so symbolic modeling is used. Films, movies, or videotapes of appropriate behavior including pictures, and books can serve as symbolic modeling.

Role-Playing: it is the most convenient method. Therapists role-play certain situations with clients. Therapists may play the role of the client or someone in the client’s life. Often this technique is used in helping clients interact more skillfully with others and assert themselves successfully as well.

Covert Modeling: sometimes when a model cannot be observed, it may be helpful to ask the clients to visualize a model’s behavior. In this process of covert modeling, the therapist describes a situation for the patient to imagine. Modeling is often used with other behavioral strategies or brings about change.


Evaluation of Behavior Therapy

Scientific Technique: behavior therapy has developed from a strong scientific base. Basic behavior principles are developed from research and have broad application.

Focus in Present: behavior therapists treat the patient in his present situation. His past experiences are not traced.

Active Role: the client has to perform an active role in it. They are supposed to engage in different activities. Sometimes home tasks are also given, so the client is not treated just as a passive creature.

Self-control: client is encouraged to gain self-control. Special pieces of training are given for this purpose.

Based on learning: all behavior techniques are based on learning principles. The person learns the appropriate and adaptive behavior.

Gradual Procedure: behavior therapy does not claim magic rather it gradually precedes complicated behavior. It solves the problem step by step.

Research-Based: number of research studies, specific procedures have been tested for a variety of disorders. Differential behavior treatments are given for depression, OCD, anxiety, and phobia.

Broad Application: behavior therapy can also be applied to those with severe mental retardation or severe psychological disorders and very young children.

The versatility of behavior therapy and its emphasis on the creative application of the scientific methodology to a wide variety of psychological disturbances are its is applied in different social settings other than clinics such as schools, in work organizations. This technique does not take a long time. So those who cannot afford long-term treatment can be benefitted. These techniques are broadly applied in the educational and developmental field as well.