Key Takeaways

  • Behavioral therapists are licensed professionals who work with clients to address mental health concerns and create long-lasting behavior change.
  • Behavioral therapy can help people reduce negative or unproductive thoughts and replace them with healthier thoughts and behaviors. 
  • Starting with the initial assessment, clients will collaborate with their therapist to create care goals and track their progress.

What is a behavioral therapist?

Behavioral therapists are trained to help people modify their behaviors to better align with their mental and behavioral health goals. Using a variety of evidence-based techniques, behavioral therapists help people manage unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and reinforce healthier ones. When working with a behavioral therapist, people have an opportunity to build better coping mechanisms, master new skills, and create positive changes in their lives.

Behavioral therapy, or behavior therapy, is based on the theory of behaviorism. This theory suggests that human behaviors are learned through environmental exposure. Behavioral therapists focus on how behavior works, how it’s affected by your environment, and what inspires growth and learning. Psychologists first began studying behaviorism in the early 20th century. Ian Pavlov, John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner are regarded as some of the most influential behavioral psychologists to date.

When to see a behavioral therapist

So how do you know when to see a behavioral therapist? Behavioral therapy is often used to support behavior change and management in children, athletes, and in organizations and workplaces. It’s also used to treat a wide range of mental and behavioral health disorders, including:

What do behavioral therapists do?

Behavioral therapists are committed to helping clients identify, modify, and manage their behaviors. Their goal is to understand each client’s treatment goals so that they can work together to reinforce positive behaviors and eliminate unhelpful ones. Behavioral therapists use a range of evidence-based techniques, but each person’s treatment plan will vary based on their symptoms, needs, and circumstances.

Here are four types of talk therapy that are often used by behavioral therapists. 

1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the connection between people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Considered to be one of the most common forms of psychotherapy, CBT can help treat a wide range of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

During CBT, behavioral therapists work with clients to understand how irrational thoughts may be contributing to dysfunctional behaviors and beliefs. From there, clients learn how to develop more constructive ways of thinking to improve emotional well-being and better cope with difficult situations.

2. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT is a subtype of CBT that was originally created to treat bipolar disorder but is now used to manage various mental health conditions. Similar to CBT, DBT provides practical skills to support behavior change goals. DBT focuses on emotional regulation, meaning it teaches people to recognize, understand, and manage their emotions. It also encourages people to observe their thoughts and feelings without judgment.

3. Applied behavior analysis (ABA)

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is another evidence-based approach that’s used to understand and change people’s behavior. ABA is typically used to support people who are on the autism spectrum, but can be adapted to meet the behavioral needs of each person. Some of the leading goals of ABA are to improve communication skills, reduce problem behaviors, and improve attention and focus. 

4. Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that’s often used to treat PTSD, OCD, and phobias. The goal of exposure therapy is to help people face and manage their fears in a safe and controlled environment. By exposing yourself to your triggers with the support of your therapist, you can gradually learn how to manage your emotions, tolerate your fears, and develop techniques to change how you react in those uncomfortable situations.

What to expect when working with a behavioral therapist 

If you’ve never worked with a behavioral therapist, you might be wondering what to expect from the experience. 

Behavioral therapy is a goal-oriented approach to care that involves close collaboration with your therapist. Your therapist will continue to monitor your progress throughout your sessions to ensure that the treatment is effective and that you’re still aligned with your care goals. 

There are several stages of working with a behavioral therapist. 

1. Initial assessment

For many people, an initial assessment is their first chance to sit down and get to know their therapist. Initial assessments are an opportunity to discuss what brought you to therapy and what you’d like to gain from your time together. During an initial assessment, your therapist will review your personal information, such as your mental health history, behavioral patterns, family dynamics, and any other experiences that are relevant to your mental health. 

Initial assessments are also a chance for you to ask questions to see if the therapist is a good fit for your clinical and cultural needs. Some examples include:

  • Do you have experience treating people with similar issues and concerns?
  • What type of therapy or treatment do you think might be a good fit for me?
  • How do we track my progress?
  • How do you typically set goals with clients?

2. Setting goals

Setting goals is an important component of behavioral therapies like CBT. Starting with the first session, therapists will collaborate with their clients to set appropriate treatment goals and actionable plans for achieving those goals. 

You’ll work together with your therapist to create goals during your first few sessions, but it can be helpful to think about what you’d like to achieve in advance. Here are a few ideas to help you set effective and manageable treatment goals.

  • Create goals that are appropriately challenging and intrinsically motivating
  • Be honest with yourself and your therapist about how you’re doing and what you’d like to achieve together
  • Set SMART goals, meaning goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound
  • Remember that goals can change over time so it’s fine if they’re short-term or temporary

3. Tracking progress

Tracking therapy progress is an opportunity for clients and therapists to assess the effectiveness of the behavioral interventions. Together, you can celebrate milestones and achievements, while continuing to work on behaviors and concerns that require further attention. 

Therapists monitor client progress using session notes, behavioral observations, and assessment tools (like the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7 scale for anxiety). And while it’s your therapist’s responsibility to monitor your progress during sessions, you can also track your journey on your own. Find time each day (or week) to reflect on how you’re feeling about your mental health goals. 

Here are some questions to help track your healing journey: 

  • Have I noticed any changes in my thoughts, behavior, or mood since starting therapy (or the latest session)?
  • Are there any triggers that are still causing me distress?
  • Am I still struggling with the same issues or behaviors that initially brought me to therapy?

It may not always feel like you’re making progress, but change can be subtle and gradual. Progress looks different for everyone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline or roadmap for reaching your treatment goals.

Find a behavioral therapist with Rula

If you’re looking to break unhealthy habits or find ways to reinforce positive thoughts and behaviors, don’t hesitate to seek professional support. 

Rula is here to make it easier to find a therapist who specializes in behavioral therapy and can help you create long-lasting behavior change. Plus, Rula can connect you with a licensed therapist who’s in network with your insurance and accepting new clients as soon as this week.

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