Behavior therapy is based on principles of behavior that have been scientifically identified and established. Research has shown that as we practice new behaviors in response to familiar emotions or situations, our brain’s physical structure actually changes. We develop new neural pathways and, with repetition, the new behavior becomes an automatic response.
Behavior Therapy is used to help people change their behavior in ways they would like to change. It was first identified in the 1950’s, more clearly articulated as a treatment approach in the 1960’s, refined in the 1970’s, expanded in the 1980’s, and is currently recognized as the “gold standard” for a wide range of problems. Behavior Therapy has two variations which are part of its current treatment approach: Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
CBT is considered the second generation of Behavioral Therapy and places its primary emphasis on cognitions (i.e., thoughts). Dysfunctional thoughts, sometimes referred to as private speech, self-talk, or attitudes are at the heart of emotional upset such as anxiety, depression, anger and guilt. These upsetting emotions produce a chain reaction of self-defeating behaviors which in turn may create more dysfunctional thoughts. CBT, as an empirically-based intervention, has a wealth of scientific research documenting its effectiveness with children, adolescents, adults and couples.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy / Training (ACT)
Whereas second generation Behavioral Therapy aims to eliminate or reduce problematic internal events, third wave therapies have expanded their focus from symptom reduction to significantly improving one’s quality and quantity of activities consistent with what they value. ACT is an empirically-based intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavioral-change approaches to increase one’s psychological flexibility and help individuals move toward that which they value (or find meaningful in their lives). Thus, there is a strong emphasis on empowerment, skill development, acceptance of thoughts and feelings, and committed action consistent with what one values in life.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
ABA is an empirically-based approach which was developed in the late 1960’s. It is the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviors to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behavior (Baer, Wolf & Risley, 1968; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991). When there are challenging behaviors, it is necessary to complete a careful analysis of the behavior within the current environmental context. The analysis is then directly linked to a behavior intervention plan to produce healthy, more adaptive ways of responding to situations. The ABA approach has been used widely with individuals of all ages, across a variety of settings and presenting problems. ABA is commonly used for individuals with autism spectrum disorders and other problems of a developmental nature.