Behavioral therapy is a term used to describe treatment approaches designed to identify and change unhealthy or self-destructive behaviors. Behavioral therapies are often used in treating addiction because they function on the idea that behaviors are learned and can be changed with proper intervention. This often requires clients to focus on current issues in their lives and make active changes in their everyday experiences to address problematic behaviors.
Behavioral therapy is used to address a wide range of mental health disorders. Regardless of the approach, these types of treatment focus heavily on the way a person’s thoughts, behaviors, perception, and emotions affect how they interact with the world around them. Rather than just addressing the behaviors directly, this approach to treatment seeks to understand the underlying motivations and influences that direct behaviors.
Types of Behavioral Therapy
There are multiple types of behavioral therapy that a person may use in recovery. Not all forms of therapy are equally effective for everyone, making it important for there to be a heavy focus on individualized care to find the right combination of therapeutic options. A majority of people who engage in behavioral therapies throughout the course of addiction treatment experience varying levels of benefits.
Some of the most common forms of behavioral therapy utilized include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is one of the most popular forms of therapy utilized in addiction treatment. It is a form of “talk” therapy that focuses on how a person’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions influence how they behave. It also focuses heavily on exploring conflicting behavior. Specifically, in the case of addiction, knowing substance abuse produces negative consequences, yet still engaging in behaviors that worsen the situation. CBT addresses patterns of thought and feelings that influence continued substance abuse. It works by helping clients focus on breaking problematic cycles and rewarding healthy behaviors to promote change.
- System desensitization: This form of treatment is often used to treat phobias. In those who struggle with addiction, phobias can drive problematic behaviors, increase anxiety, and lead to increased substance abuse as a form of coping. Rather than giving in to their typical reactions to a particular phobia, clients are encouraged to practice relaxation techniques. Utilizing activities such as breathing techniques can help reduce the heightened response to the phobia. Over time, a person will gradually be increasingly exposed to their fear in order to practice their responses.
- Aversion therapy: This practice is commonly used in addiction treatment. Aversion therapy teaches clients to associate substance abuse with extremely negative or unpleasant stimuli. Substance abuse, despite its negative repercussions, is often associated with positive stimuli because, although it is unhealthy, it produces a pleasurable experience. A therapist can help clients learn to associate substances with an extremely negative stimulus instead to discourage continued substance abuse.
- Neurofeedback: Neurofeedback is a type of therapy that involves using sensors to monitor brain signals. Utilizing a program, clients watch graphics or listen to music while their brainwaves are monitored. The program works to redirect brainwave activity in order to produce changes in sleep patterns, decrease levels of stress, and improve overall mental clarity. While it is not a cure, it can provide information about the brain by identifying dysfunctions that cause problematic symptoms. Therapists can then work with clients to reorganize and redirect brainwave frequencies in order to evoke change.
- Somatic therapy: Somatic therapy combines traditional talk therapy with alternative forms of physical therapy. Therapists meet with clients to revisit painful or traumatic memories. While working through these, they observe the body’s physical reaction to the resurfaced memory. Next, the therapist helps the client utilize physical activities to manage their reaction to the memory. This may include breathing exercises, meditation, and relaxation exercises. In some cases, alternative forms of physical movement may be used, such as dance, yoga, and exercise.
Bahavioral Therapy and Addiction
There are countless therapeutic options utilized in addiction treatment. They serve to address the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that drive addictive behaviors. By working to fundamentally change the way a person views and interacts with the world around them, they are able to help clients develop healthy coping mechanisms, alternative outlets for difficult emotions, and ways to reach out for help should they become overwhelmed.
While a significant portion of addiction treatment focuses on recovery from the addiction itself, a generous amount of time must be spent on developing methods of coping with the thoughts and emotions that ultimately drive destructive behaviors. Behavioral therapies can be utilized throughout the treatment process and can be a vital tool for those who have already completed treatment. No matter where a person is in their journey, there is always something to gain from behavioral therapies.
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