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What is Behavioral Psychotherapy?

By Florence J. Tipton
Updated May 17, 2024
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Behavioral psychotherapy is a form of therapy that seeks to determine the root causes of certain behaviors. Therapy sessions typically analyze a patient’s emotional and intellectual perceptions to develop an understanding of undesirable behavior triggers. A psychotherapist and patient may examine behavior patterns — why and when they occur — in weekly sessions. During behavioral psychotherapy, a written record of behavior patterns may help to determine conditions that trigger certain behaviors. Throughout behavioral psychotherapy sessions, techniques to encourage improvements toward desirable behavior patterns are typically developed and applied in the course of daily activities.

An analysis of emotional and cognitive patterns will generally provide insight into the causes of a patient’s undesirable behavior. A psychotherapist may offer supportive feedback as the patient shares situations that may have led to unwanted behaviors. Through awareness of how the patient feels and thinks, therapy discussions may challenge a patient to reshape those feelings and thoughts to make different behavior choices.

When a patient participates in behavioral psychotherapy, the therapist may seek to determine how his environment stimulates unwanted behaviors. Discussions during the sessions typically focus on behaviors associated with perceived problems in the patient’s life. The sessions may evolve around identifying causal relationships between internal or external stimuli and something the patient does. Upon identifying the problem and causal effects, the discussion may shift to developing and carrying out techniques to overcome the negative behavior patterns.

Behavior patterns and origins in the context of daily activities tend to be more pronounced. Keeping track of those patterns and activities might be useful in developing techniques that change the behaviors. Some psychotherapists usually begin with a list of behaviors and possible environmental triggers identified during sessions. In general, the psychotherapist may suggest techniques for the patient to implement that replace previous responses that were once the norm, but did not end favorably.

The general goal of behavioral psychotherapy is to replace unwanted behavior patterns with more desirable ones. To achieve this goal, therapy sessions may progress into practicing different techniques until the desirable behavior becomes natural. The goal is not to control external stimuli. Rather, therapy sessions seek to clarify the correlation between behaviors and triggers. Ultimately, the patient may learn how to pursue a behavior that enriches his life experiences.

Sometimes, a mental health condition triggers behavior patterns that relate to the patient’s environment. Most people who have a mental health condition may suffer from a mood disorder or anxiety disorder. If the behavior patterns are the result of a mental health condition, this may require intensive behavioral psychotherapy to diagnose the condition.

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