Behaviour therapy focuses on changing behaviours that are not functional or helpful. It identifies which situations cause problems and how a person behaves in those situations. Subsequently, an attempt is made to learn new behaviour that fits better and works with the event.
Since the beginning, various movements have emerged within behaviour therapy. These different forms are all based on the ‘classic behaviour therapy’, but work from a different perspective. The three main forms are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. This triggers a therapeutic process by changing both dysfunctional behaviour and negative ways of thinking. It is assumed that thoughts and behaviour are connected to each other.
- Constructional behavioral therapy. Here, a great deal of attention is paid to the impact that an individual’s environment has on his behaviour. After it has been established how the patient deals with his or her environment, the situations in which the patient is functioning without symptoms will be extended.
- Symptom-based behavioral therapy. This method focuses on the patient’s symptom. The symptom is first analyzed. When the problem analysis is completed, a step-by-step plan is drawn up in order to reduce the symptom by means of assignments and exercises.
Behaviour therapy is mainly used for concrete symptoms, such as addictions, sleep disorders, anxieties, phobias and bad habits. This therapy is also used by couples therapists. Behaviour therapy is less suitable for people who need personal growth and progress; a person-oriented therapy is more suitable for this.
First of all, the problematic behaviour is identified, then an attempt is made to find out how and when the symptoms have arisen. If that’s clear, the (concrete and achievable) goals of the therapy are formulated. The behavioral therapist then makes a step-by-step plan together with the patient. In small steps, with the help of exercises and homework, they are working towards the goal. Sometimes, experiences from the past can be discussed. Mental symptoms can sometimes be traced back to negative experiences in a person’s past. As a result of such experiences, people can get negative ideas about themselves. Factors in a person’s environment also affect mental symptoms. The main issue is reducing the current symptoms.
The therapist and patient usually meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. The duration of behaviour therapy depends on the symptom and the form of the therapy. On average, between ten and twenty-five sessions of forty-five minutes are required.
Some patients don’t recover at all, while other patients still have a number of remaining symptoms after the treatment. Overall, behaviour therapy has a clear improvement for two out of three patients, while one out of three will not benefit from this treatment.
- Behaviour therapy is primarily symptom-oriented, rather than person-oriented.
- Behaviour therapy does not or hardly work with a system of punishments to unlearn behaviour, but rather with a reward system to learn a behavioral change (improvement). Punishment only makes clear what a person shouldn’t do, and not what is desired behaviour.