There are so many types of therapy out there – behavioral, CBT, psychodynamic, humanistic, etc. But what exactly is the difference between behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT? How do you know what type of therapy is best for you?
Behavioral therapy suggests all behavior is learned from our environment and negative behaviors can be unlearned. Cognitive therapy suggests that how we think informs our feelings and actions. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be boiled down to the intersection between cognitive AND behavioral therapy.
Those definitions can help you decide what sort of therapy is right for you, but if you’re still wondering what you can expect from the different modes of therapy, if one approach is better suited for what you’re dealing with, or if one type of therapy is more effective than the others, read on.
What is Behavioral Therapy?
Behavioral therapy is a broad term that is used to describe therapy techniques that are used to enforce ‘good’ behaviors and reduce ‘bad’ ones. Behavioral therapy is rooted in the idea that we learn from what is around us, or our environment. It’s very action based and is usually highly focused – basically, if you learned the behavior in the first place, you can unlearn it.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a type of behavioral therapy that helps people identify and change ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ thoughts and patterns. In CBT work, your therapist will help you identify, challenge, and replace your undesirable thoughts with more objective and realistic ones.
In other words, CBT helps you identify negative thoughts, practice new skills, set realistic and achievable goals, problem solve, and monitor yourself and your progress over time.
How Do I Know What Therapy I Need?
Treatments Used in Each Type of Therapy
Systematic desensitization involves exposure to a trigger in a controlled environment and being taught relaxation techniques to replace the negative responses previously experienced.
Habit reversal training focuses on fostering awareness of negative behaviors and when they are triggered, then replacing the negative behavior with a pre-discussed positive one.
Observational learning can be reduced down to simply observing positive behaviors as exhibited by a model in response to triggers, then intentionally replicating the positive behavior when the trigger takes place.
The common thread in behavioral therapy approaches is that a negative behavior or response to a trigger is identified by client and therapist, and then steps are taken to train the client to respond with a more positive behavior that both parties agree upon.
Because cognitive therapy centers on the idea that thinking is the key factor for change, it focuses on changing your thinking rather than changing your behavior.
Cognitive therapists attempt to do so by asking you to analyze how accurate your thoughts really are, gauging what you expect to happen, and noting what you consider to be the cause of events.
Once you have talked through those elements as they pertain to a trigger of yours, you and your therapist will see where your thinking goes astray, and how you can achieve more realistic thinking.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, merges the two methods. It asserts that how you think about things informs both how you feel and the behavior you exhibit.
Therefore, CBT techniques tend to focus on identifying negative or unrealistic thinking and replacing it with realistic thinking, then acting based on that new realistic thinking.
Some techniques used by CBT therapists are:
- Cognitive restructuring, which is when your therapist asks you questions about your thinking that identify negative thought patterns and working with you to help reframe those thoughts.
- Guided discovery is an approach that involves your therapist becoming familiar with your viewpoint and then asking you questions or making statements that challenge your assumptions and broaden your thinking. That broadened thinking should, in theory, correspond to a broadened behavioral response to triggers.
- Journaling is a common and effective technique in which your therapist asks you to write down negative thoughts you have between sessions, and positive thoughts you can reframe with. After practicing this for a while, your brain will automatically reframe with positive thoughts!
What Each Approach is Commonly Used to Treat
Behavioral therapy is often used to treat phobias, disorders like Tourettes or trichotillomania, obsessive compulsive disorder, or to help clients with anger and stress management issues.
Really though, it can help in any situation where there is a harmful behavior that could be replaced with a more beneficial one.
It’s important to remember that behavioral therapy can sometimes address the symptoms of a mental health problem without properly acknowledging the root of it, so it may not be enough on its own, depending on what you are facing.
Cognitive therapy is usually used to treat depression, either on its own or used with medication to regulate it. With that said, it can be beneficial to anyone struggling with overtly negative thinking or moods.
Cognitive distortions are something that any of us can be affected by, whether we suffer from depression or not. Sometimes cognitive therapy can also be found lacking, as understanding your thinking is only one facet of mental health.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be used to treat a wide variety of mental health disorders and issues, but most commonly it is used to address anxiety, depression, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, personality disorders, and addiction. It can be tailored by a practiced CBT therapist to fit your needs perfectly.
Is One Type of Therapy More Effective Than the Rest?
As I hinted at in the previous section, both behavioral and cognitive therapies leave a little something to be desired, depending on what you as a client are facing. This is why cognitive behavioral therapy has become a very common specialty, as it merges the two techniques in a way that eliminates most of those gaps.
CBT is more effective than focusing on cognitions or behaviors alone. CBT is one of the most evidence-based treatments, meaning that there is the most evidence supporting this type of treatment. Typically, when a doctor or primary care physician suggests therapy, they are referring to CBT.
Behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, and their child, cognitive behavioral therapy, all have their merits. When you decide to pursue therapy and begin looking for a therapist, keep their specialization in mind.
If you have any further questions about different types of therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out. My team and I are always here to assist!