Behavior Therapy: Basic Concepts, Assessment Methods, and Applications.

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Behavior Therapy: Basic Concepts, Assessment Methods, and Applications.

Different kinds of psychotherapies have existed throughout history, and have always been rooted in philosophical views of human nature (Wachtel P., 1997). Specifically, behavior therapy intents to help individuals overcome difficulties in nearly any aspect of human experience (Thorpe G. & Olson S., 1990). The techniques of behavior therapy have been applied to education, the workplace, consumer activities, and even sports, but behavior therapy in clinical settings is largely concerned with the assessment of mental health problems. In general, behavior therapy is a type of psychotherapy that aims on changing undesirable types of behavior. It engages in identifying objectionable, maladaptive behaviors and replacing them with healthier ones. . According to Rimm D. & Masters J. (1974), the label “behavior therapy” comprises a large number of different techniques that make use of psychological-especially learning- principles to deal with maladaptive human behavior.

Behavior therapy is a relative new kind of psychotherapy (Corsini R. & Wedding D., 2008). As a systematic approach, behavior therapy began in the 1950’s, in order to assess and treat psychological disorders. Behavior therapy was developed by a small group of psychologists and physicians who were not satisfied with the conventional techniques of psychotherapy (Thorpe G. et al, 1990). They linked behavior therapy to experimental psychology, differentiating it from other preexisting approaches. During behavior therapy’s first phase, the applied developed from principles of classical and operant conditioning. There are varying views about the best way to define behavior therapy. However, most health professionals agree to Eysenck's definition: “Behavior therapy is the attempt to alter human behavior and emotions in a beneficial way according to the laws of modern learning theory”. Erwin E. (1978), instead of proposing a specific definition for behavior therapy, he referred to some basic and important characteristics that this therapy possesses. According to Erwin, behavior therapy is used largely to lessen human suffering or to improve human functioning. He pointed out that it is a psychological rather than a biological form of treatment. In the cases of phobias treatment, behavior therapy is usually applied to treat the symptoms directly. Moreover, behavior therapy is characteristically used to modify maladaptive behavior or to teach adaptive behavior. This means that the focus is on individuals’ behavior. In some cases, behavior therapy techniques may even be used to reduce unwanted mental states as in Davinson’s (1968) use of counterconditioning to reduce sadistic fantasy, simply because the mental state itself is unwanted (as stated in Erwin, 1978). Another basic characteristic of behavior therapy is that it is often used in an incremental rather than a holistic fashion. Problems that are to be treated are first divided into their components and each component is treated separately. Last, behavior therapy is studied and used experimentally, being closely related to learning theory research.

Three main approaches in contemporary behavior therapy have been identified (Corsini R. et al, 2008). These are the applied behavior analysis (ABA), the neobehavioristic meditational stimulus-response model, and the social cognitive theory. ABA refers to the application of the principles of learning and motivation from Behavior Analysis (the scientific study of behavior), and the procedures and technology derived from those principles, to the solution of problems of social significance. This approach is based on Skinner’s radical behaviorism. It identifies behaviors that should be extinguished and behaviors that are to be taught. It makes use of reinforcement, punishment, extinction, stimulus control, and other procedures derived from laboratory research (Corsini R. et al, 2008). It is most...
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