The Principles of Behavioral Therapy

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Behavioral therapies are based on the theory of classical conditioning. The principle of behavioral therapy is all behavior is learned. Faulty learning (i.e.

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conditioning) is the cause of anomalous behavior. The aim of the behavioral therapy is to focus on current behavioral issues and on efforts to remove the undesirable behaviors. Behavioral therapy has clear distinctions from psychodynamic therapy (re: Freud) who emphasizes on uncovering unresolved conflicts from childhood (i.e. the cause of abnormal behavior). Skinner and A. Bandura are well known behavioral theorists Skinner developed a theory of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence (Skinner, 1938). The main principle of operant conditioning is changing environmental events that are related to a person’s behavior.

For example, the reinforcement of desired behaviors and ignoring or punishing undesired ones. Unlike Skinner, Bandura believed that humans are active information processors and think about the relationship between their behavior and its consequences. Observational learning could not occur unless cognitive processes were at work. These mental factors mediate in the learning process to determine whether a new response is acquired. Therefore, individuals do not automatically observe the behavior of a model and imitate it. There is some thought prior to imitation, and this consideration is called mediational processes. This occurs between observing the behavior (stimulus) and imitating it or not (response) (Bandura, 1977)

Examples of behavior therapy include: Systematic Desensitization, Aversion Therapy and Flooding. The theory of classical conditioning suggests a response is learned and repeated through immediate association. Behavioral therapies based on classical conditioning aim to break the association between stimulus and undesired response (e.g. phobia, additional etc.) Systematic desensitization Systematic desensitization was developed by South African psychologist Joseph Wolpe. In the 1950s. Wolpe discovered that the cats of Wits University could overcome their fears through gradual and systematic exposure.

The therapy is based on the principles of classical conditioning. The goals of systematic desensitization are to remove the fear response of a phobia and substitute a relaxation response to the conditional stimulus gradually using counter conditioning. (Wolpe, 1958) Treatment contains 3 phases: Phase 1 Learning a deep muscle relaxation technique and breathing exercises (control over breathing, muscle de tensioning or meditation). This step is very important because of reciprocal inhibition, where once response is inhibited because it is incompatible with another. For example in phobias, fears involves tension and tension is incompatible with relaxation. Phase 2 Forming a fear ladder starting at stimuli that create the least anxiety (fear) and building up in stages to the most fear-provoking images. The list is vital for building a therapy structure.

For example, define the ultimate level-10 scary Phase 3 Working the way up the fear ladder starting at the least unpleasant stimuli with relaxation techniques.

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