What is Behaviour Therapy?
This type of therapy is often used for problems with behaviour. It is based on the idea that the way we behave is learned and so can be changed. It tries to replace unwanted behaviours with desired behaviours. The focus is on learning new behaviours and teaching how to respond to situations in more helpful ways.
The therapy often uses a reward system to shape behaviour. For example, a child may be offered a reward for doing homework or chores. When the child completes the task and gets a reward, the child is more likely to repeat the behaviour. The desired behaviour is reinforced with a reward.
The idea is to:
- encourage the desired behaviour, by recognizing it and praising it (positive attention),
- discourage minor unwanted behaviour by ignoring it,
- take away a privilege if the unwanted behaviour is too serious to ignore (appropriate consequences),
- remove common triggers of unwanted behaviour.
Parents, teachers and other caregivers can play an important role by changing how they respond to the child's behaviours. It's important to set specific rules about behaviour and follow these rules consistently. When a child breaks a rule, people often reward the wrong behaviour by giving in and not being consistent. This reinforces the troubling behaviour and the child is more likely to repeat that behaviour.
Behaviour therapy can be used for different age groups. For younger children, parents and caregivers can learn skills to help manage their child's behaviour. For youth, parents can support and strengthen the skills their child is learning in therapy. This therapy can be done in individual or group settings.
Other types of therapy often include aspects of behaviour therapy, for example Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
What types of challenges are best suited for Behaviour Therapy?
This therapy is used for many types of challenges and disorders and can vary widely. It focuses on current problems and behaviour, and so it is often used for disorders with symptoms that may lead to troubling behaviours.
Behaviour therapy can be the main treatment or combined with other treatments for various disorders, including:
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Anxiety (including phobias)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (specifically, Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) therapy)
- Behavioural Disorders, including Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
- Problems with anger
- Substance use
How long will it take?
This depends on the person and the type of therapy for the specific problem. For example, it usually takes 8 or more sessions for parents to learn skills to help manage their child's behaviour. These skills need to continue outside of therapy to reinforce and maintain the desired behaviours.