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Alcohol & Addiction Recovery

Behavioral Therapy

Dr. Howard C. Samuels, PsyD, LMFT

Psychologists have established many forms of therapy over the years to treat mental health disorders. One of the most popular is behavioral therapy, which addresses the relationship between thoughts and observable behavior.

What Is Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy is a form of mental health treatment that is based on the theory that all behavior is learned and that unhealthy behavior can be changed. The goals of the therapy are to identify the negative behavior that is causing distress or difficulty functioning and to help the patient replace this habit with a healthy behavior.

Behavioral therapists have successfully worked with patients on treating addictions, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and several other mental health conditions. This therapy has been found to be helpful for both adults and children.

Types of Behavioral Therapy

There are many types of behavioral therapy that can address a wide range of mental health problems. Here are three of the most common forms:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a popular type of therapy for treating substance use disorders, depression, anxiety, and a wide variety of other mental health challenges. It is based on the idea that psychological disorders are caused in part by false or unhelpful thoughts and that these thoughts lead to unhealthy patterns of behavior.

During cognitive behavioral therapy, the patient learns to recognize their thinking errors and how those thoughts affect their behavior. The treatment requires the patient to take an active role by completing homework assignments and practicing new techniques outside of the therapy session. The following are some of the most common goals and areas of focus of cognitive behavioral therapy:

  • Become aware of automatic thoughts
  • See situations from other perspectives
  • Avoid generalizations
  • Understand others’ motivations
  • Challenge assumptions that may be false

Systematic Desensitization Systematic desensitization is a type of exposure therapy based on classical conditioning, which is the process of learning by association. When two stimuli are repeatedly paired together, the response or behavior elicited by the first stimulus eventually becomes elicited by the second stimulus.

The goal of systematic desensitization is to get rid of a fear response and replace it with a relaxation response to a phobia. The therapy involves three stages:

  • 1. Create an anxiety stimulus hierarchy. This is a list of all the stimuli that cause anxiety organized from the most mild to the most severe.
  • 2. Learn the relaxation response. Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises, and other relaxation techniques can be used to reach a state of serenity. The body can’t be relaxed and anxious at the same time, so learning to purposely relax helps the patient control their fear.
  • 3. Pair the anxiety stimulus with the relaxation response. The patient completely relaxes and then is presented with the most mild stimulus. Once the patient is able to maintain the state of serenity with that first stimulus, they start again with the next stimulus. The goal is to eventually conquer all of the fears on the hierarchy.

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy is occasionally used to help people change an unhealthy or undesirable behavior. Like systematic desensitization, the main principle behind aversion therapy is conditioning. However, aversion therapy uses an unpleasant stimulus to create a negative response to the behavior. It can be used for alcoholism, smoking, gambling, anger issues, and other bad habits.

The following are some common stimuli used in this treatment:

  • Chemical therapy: The patient receives a drug that causes nausea or other unpleasant feelings when combined with the undesirable behavior.
  • Visual imagery: The patient visualizes something unpleasant while thinking about the target behavior.

After enough sessions, the patient should naturally feel aversion to the unhealthy behavior because their brain associates the behavior with the discomfort of the stimulus. This aversion will continue even after the unpleasant stimulus is removed.

Behavioral Therapist in Los Angeles

Changing a behavior that you’ve had for years can be extremely difficult, but it is possible with hard work and professional help. Therapy is a gradual process, but it can help you challenge and correct even the strongest unhealthy behavior.

Dr. Howard Samuels is a licensed therapist with decades of experience in addiction counseling. He uses behavioral therapy techniques to help patients overcome addiction and the other mental health challenges that often occur alongside addiction. If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder or another type of addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out to Dr. Samuels. You deserve a life free of negative behavior and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and connecting with a therapist is the first step toward recovery.

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