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Behavior therapy, as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), is “a form of psychotherapy that applies the principles of learning, operant conditioning, and classical conditioning to eliminate symptoms and modify ineffective or maladaptive patterns of behavior. The focus of this therapy is upon the behavior itself and the contingencies and environmental factors that reinforce it, rather than exploration of the underlying psychological causes of the behavior.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that behavior therapy teaches children and their families how to reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors and strengthen positive child behaviors. There are several different kinds of behavioral therapy used with children and adolescents. Depending on a young person’s nuanced mental health needs, behavioral therapists may use one or more of the following methods, provided by the Child Mind Institute

  • Behavioral Activation (BA): is defined as “an empirically based psychotherapy for depression that improves systems by increasing a client’s contact with sources of positive reinforcement by making behavioral changes.” It was initially developed in the 1970s by Peter M. Lewinsohn and colleagues who viewed depression as a behavioral issue rather than a cognitive issue, arising from a lack of positive reinforcement, particularly in social relationships. Hence, they believed that the most effective method of treatment for depression was to “restore an adequate schedule of positive reinforcement for the individual by changing the patient’s behavior and/ or the environment.” Behavioral activation is more thoroughly explained as “a structured, brief psychotherapeutic approach that aims to (a) increase engagement in adaptive activities (which often are those associated with the experience of pleasure or mastery), (b) decrease engagement in activities that maintain depression or increase risk for depression, and (c) solve problems that limit access to reward or that maintain or increase aversive control.” BA targets patterns of avoidance and cultivates opportunities for positive reinforcement. It focuses on behavioral changes in a young person’s daily life to increase positive awareness.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): was developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist, Aaron Beck. CBT is a structured, short-term, goal-oriented form of psychotherapy that “targets multiple areas of potential vulnerability (e.g., cognitive, behavioral, affective) with developmentally-guided strategies and traverses multiple intervention pathways.” CBT encompasses numerous strategies, focusing on an array of topics, such as extinction, habituation, modeling, cognitive restructuring, problem-solving, and the development of coping strategies, mastery, and a sense of self-control. The CBT framework aims to help young people break unhealthy behavioral patterns by identifying and replacing dysfunctional patterns with positive thinking patterns.
  • Play therapy: child development psychologist Jean Piaget observed that young children were largely incapable of expressing complex motives, feelings, and thoughts, as their brains had not fully developed the capability of abstract thought. Play therapy provides children with the opportunity to express complex feelings and thoughts using nonverbal and universal means of expression. Through play therapy therapists may help children learn more adaptive behaviors when there are emotional or social skills deficits.
  • Applied behavioral analysis (ABA): renowned clinical psychologist Ole Ivar Lovaas developed APA in the 1960s to treat people more effectively with autism. ABA utilizes positive reinforcement to teach and promote social skills, communication abilities, learning and academic skills, and self-care habits.
  • Social skills training (SST): as explained by Verywell Mind is “a type of behavioral therapy used to improve social skills in people with mental disorders or developmental disabilities… [specifically] to help those with anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and other diagnoses.” Social skills training involves a range of instructional methods and interventions used to help an adolescent understand and improve social skills. 

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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