Behavioral psychology, or behaviorism, is a theory suggesting that environment shapes human behavior. In a most basic sense, behavioral psychology is the study and analysis of observable behavior. This field of psychology influenced thought heavily throughout the middle of the 20th century. It is still used by mental health professionals today, as its concepts and theories remain relevant in fields like psychotherapy and education. Behavioral psychologists perform the following duties: Conduct research utilizing conditioning and stimuli to study human behavior. Work in social work or counseling to help people understand and change negative behavior, such as drug addiction; or help people suffering from mental health disorders.

Techniques from Behavioral Psychology

Several concepts in behaviorism are utilized in therapy:

  • Systematic desensitization is used for clients who have a specific phobia, which is characterized by marked fear or anxiety about an object or situation, like an animal or airplanes. Therapy involves applying relaxation or coping techniques as people are gradually exposed to the object or situation.
  • Exposure and response prevention is a strategy that involves exposure to fearful situations, and then not engaging in unhelpful coping strategies. This therapeutic technique is used for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other types of anxiety disorders.
  • Token economy reinforces target behavior by giving children and adults symbols or tokens that can be exchanged for something else. It can be used for people with a wide range of mental health issues, as well as in educational settings.
  • Modeling involves clients learning behavior by imitation alone. It’s used in developmental psychology and can be incorporated into clinical use.
  • Applied behavior analysis emerged in the 1960s as a way to modify behavior. It is commonly used for children with an autism spectrum disorder, and is also relevant to fields like education, industrial safety, and criminal behavior.
  • Contingency management involves individuals receiving vouchers for retail goods and services, or the opportunity to win prizes.

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