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Psychotherapy: Behavioral & Cognitive Approaches

Psychotherapy: Behavioral & Cognitive Approaches

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify behavioral and cognitive approaches to treatment.

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Hello, class. So in today's lesson, we're going to be looking at two other approaches to psychotherapy. And they're again terms that you're probably familiar with from other areas of psychology. That's behavioral psychotherapy and cognitive psychotherapy.

So at first glance, you'll think that these two terms are opposed to each other. So they're on opposite ends of the spectrum. But in fact, you'll find at the end of the lesson that these two go together and they actually help to create more effective therapies, which we'll examine later.

So first, under behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy uses learning principles to attempt to change different types of behaviors. So the idea is that you learn unhealthy or maladaptive behaviors over time. So the cure for that is to unlearn those kinds of behaviors.

So this is very much an action-based approach to therapy. The idea is not to try to learn about insights into the conscious or unconscious mind. Rather, you change things by doing things.

So there are two mechanisms that are at work under behavioral psychotherapy that we need to explain, as well as two specific applications for each of those. So the first one is what we called classical conditioning. Now we'll go into the mechanisms of this, how it works, a little bit later in the course.

But what you need to know right now is that classical conditioning is when we come to associate certain positive or negative feelings or sensations with certain types of behaviors. So we're more likely to do behaviors where we associate positive feelings. And we're less likely to do behaviors that we have associated negative feelings or sensations.

This can be used in different ways. For example, in aversion therapy, you learn to associate certain negative feelings with something that's undesirable that we want to get rid of, a habit or a behavior that we have. For example, if we wanted to stop drinking, we might use a drug which induces nausea in a person. So you would come to associate that feeling of sickness with drinking and become less likely to perform that habit. And those are drugs that are actually available right now if you're considering that kinds of thing I guess.

Another way that we might reduce the likelihood or the feelings towards something is desensitization, where we come to reduce negative feelings over time of fear, anxiety, or aversion towards things that we might have some kinds of unwelcome phobias for towards or uncharacteristic levels of fear.

For example, if I was afraid of snakes, I would be able to, over time, desensitize myself to that fear by gradually being exposed to snakes in different ways. At first, I might be exposed to it vicariously, which is to say that I look at a picture of it, a snake. Or I might watch a person holding a snake. But I'm not doing it myself, but I'm seeing them. And then over time, I might perform the kinds of things that I'm afraid of. For example, I might hold a snake or touch a snake or be in the same room as a snake. And then, hopefully over time, I become desensitized because of that exposure. And I lose my fear of snakes.

Another mechanism under behavioral therapy is operant conditioning, which is a little bit different. Again, we'll go over how this functions a little bit later. But the thing to remember is that behaviors are more likely to recur if they're rewarded in some kind of way. So when you're a kid, if you were given a reward for studying well, you're more likely to study well over time.

So one way to apply this idea is the idea of not reinforcement, or extinction, which is to say that you identify certain rewards in somebody's life for behaviors that they want to get rid of and then take away those rewards. Things that you might not have recognized as being rewarding initially so that the behavior is less likely to occur and eventually it goes extinct, which is to say it stops occurring. The person doesn't want to perform those actions anymore.

This can be applied to attention-seeking behavior in children. They might do something negative because they like the attention that they're feeling. So if you stop giving them the attention, if you stop reacting to negative behaviors, they're less likely to act out.

Another way it's used is actually reward behaviors that you want to increase. And this can be done on a simple level, like we said giving candy to a child. But it's also applied in token economies, which is to say when somebody in a particular setting does something that they're supposed to or some kind of target behavior that we want to reward, they're immediately given a token. And these tokens, just like money, can be used to buy different sorts of things at a later date.

Now this is something that's often used in schools. But it's also used in therapeutic settings as well, in hospitals. And it's come to be very effective as a treatment of certain kinds of unwanted behaviors.

And the final theoretical approach we're looking at under psychotherapy is the cognitive psychotherapy, which takes a look at people's thoughts, their feelings, and their beliefs. In other words, their internal mental processes and how we can affect those to affect their mental health. So the idea behind cognitive therapy is that how do you perceive an event? What's going on in your mind is just as important as the event itself.

So the goal is to help clients to change their thinking patterns that lead to all sorts of troublesome emotions, feelings, or behaviors. And cognitive behavioral therapy is one application of this. Now cognitive behavioral therapy combines both aspects, behavioral and cognitive therapies, to help people understand how thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors and vice versa.

This is used to treat phobias, addictions, depression, anxiety, a broad range of issues that people are having in their daily lives. The idea is to help a person come to an awareness that helps them to change certain destructive patterns within their lives. These are sorts of things that we look at as a sort of cycle or a feedback loop that affects them.

So for example, there's a certain kind of event that occurs, which helped them to have negative thoughts and feelings, which might also affect their behaviors. As an example, if somebody's anti-social, then they might see rejection from one of their peers in a negative way. And as a result, they're less likely to go out into social situations, which again affects the fact that they aren't in any social situations. They have no peers or no friends, which affects their thoughts and feelings. And you see it sort of goes in a circuit, which can go the other way as well.

Terms to Know
Behavioral Approach

Using conditioning methods, seeks to change behavior only. Internal mental processes are not taken into consideration.

Cognitive Approach

Focuses on mental activity; changing thoughts will change feelings, which then changes behavior.

Cognitive Behavioral Approach

A combination of conditioning - making new associations and reinforcing preferred behaviors - with identifying and eliminating or changing troublesome thought patterns.