The COVID-19 pandemic has made the year 2020 one of the most difficult in the 21st century. Worldwide, over 2 million people lost their lives to this disease. Due to the social distancing rules and lockdowns to slow the disease’s spread, many have lost their jobs. Around 40% of US adults reported having issues with mental health or substance abuse. And how could they not, when faced with a reality where no one was prepared.
Another disheartening statistic is that only about a third of the population suffering from mental illness seek treatment.
This treatment can come in many different forms: individual therapy, medication, inpatient and outpatient care, group therapy, and more.
One of the most successful forms of psychotherapy is behavioral health therapy. In the ultimate guide to behavioral health treatment in 2021, we will define what behavioral health means, how it is different from mental health, what advantages this type of therapy offers, and who can benefit from it.
Difference between Behavioral and Mental Health
Most people think that behavioral health and mental health are the same. And even though they have some similar characteristics, they also have significant differences to point out.
A mental health disorder can result from hormonal issues, flawed brain chemistry, or genetic factors. It can, but it doesn’t have to be the consequences of unhealthy behaviors. Here are examples of mental health conditions that can be unrelated to behavior:
- Anxiety disorder
- Mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder
At the same time, there are a handful of mental health issues that can be considered behavioral health issues. They are the result of harmful or undesirable behavior. These issues can be:
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Sex addiction
Behavioral health concerns can be addressed with behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy is helpful even in some (if not most) cases of mental health problems, as there are quite a few positives when starting this type of treatment.
Behavioral Health Treatment: Definition and Benefits
Behavioral treatment is a type of talk therapy where the therapist and patient work together to find resolutions to the patient’s life problems. Unhealthy behaviors and negative thinking patterns are learned and can be changed. This treatment’s ultimate goal is to replace problematic behaviors with positive ones, and better prepare the patient for the future.
Once you start behavioral therapy, here are just some of the things you can expect:
- Increase in self-esteem
Since the foundation of behavioral therapy (primarily cognitive behavioral therapy – CBT) is finding answers to one’s problems, patients gain more self-esteem the more they realize they can find their way. Self-esteem issues are prevalent in mental health conditions, and regular CBT helps reaffirm a person’s belief in themselves.
- Better anger management
When people are confused or overwhelmed with emotions such as grief, guilt, or shame, it is all too easy for those emotions to surface as anger. CBT equips the patient with the necessary tools and techniques they can use to control their anger. It addresses the underlying cause of the anger and helps an individual learn how to express what they feel in a calm, reasonable way, instead of exploding in rage.
- Nurturing positive thoughts
It is too simple to say: stop thinking negative thoughts. Those who have a mental illness cannot just stop thinking negatively. However, through careful guidance by a mental health professional, a person can learn how to replace their negative thoughts with more realistic ones that are automatically more positive.
- Better communication skills
When weighed down by depression, anxiety, or any other disorder, it is not easy to open up to other people. You may feel like it’s your fault that you have a mental illness or that others will judge you and possibly reject you. One of the primary goals of behavioral therapy is to help you communicate your feelings better and improve your relationships. There’s no room for fear, shame, or anger. All you need is honest communication to get the ball rolling.
- Improvement in coping skills
If a person goes through a traumatic event, they may react in unpredictable, unhealthy ways. Bottling up emotions only leads to worsening of the person’s condition and possible outbursts later on. A CBT therapist works with their patient to find new ways of expressing their feelings and dealing with stressful situations. This is especially useful when a person is overcome with the grief of losing a loved one.
- Building a stronger support system
Having a network of trustworthy, supportive people around you is crucial to mental health and wellbeing. CBT encourages patients to communicate with their friends and family members and other people close to them, such as their social worker or primary care physician. Once a patient establishes a circle of supportive individuals around them, they have a higher chance of getting better and not slipping back into their old habits and behaviors.
- Relapse prevention
Finally, changing undesirable behaviors for healthy ones is the essence of addiction treatment. CBT is vital in helping those in recovery recognize thought patterns that lead could lead them to relapse. Without identifying these patterns, recovering addicts wouldn’t know how to avoid them.
Types of Behavioral Treatment
Not all behavioral treatment is the same or meant for the same type of conditions. There are four main forms of behavioral treatment:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT has already been mentioned plenty in this post, and it is one of the most widespread and scientifically validated forms of talk therapy. In CBT, the patient and the therapist work together to solve problems in the patient’s life. The end goal is to replace problematic thinking patterns and behavior with positive ones so that the patient has an easier time in the future. An emphasis is put on developing robust coping skills and improving communication with other people in the patient’s surroundings.
- Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy (CBPT)
Children under the age of eight don’t have the necessary language skills or abstract thought capabilities to participate in regular cognitive therapy. CBPT was introduced as a variation of that, where children can play in a controlled environment that makes them feel safe and comfortable and still participate in therapy.
CBPT utilizes toys, coloring books, reading books, and other children-friendly items to help kids tackle their life problems or treat any mental disorders they may have. The therapist guides the child to express their emotions, thoughts, and feelings, and through play, they work together on changing them from negative to positive.
- System Desensitization
This type of behavioral therapy is based on classical conditioning or learning through association. It is most effective when used in the treatment of different kinds of phobias. Even severe phobias can be treated through system desensitization, though patients would have to undergo at least 12 sessions. This approach’s core principle is to, when exposed to the phobia stimulus, the fear response is replaced with a relaxation response.
At first, patients learn about relaxation and breathing techniques. Then they are gradually exposed to their phobia trigger (in a controlled environment and under the supervision of a professional), allowing them to put those techniques into practice. Two main types of system desensitization exist: in vitro, when the patient merely imagines their phobic stimulus, and in vivo when exposed to it in real life. Your behavioral health provider will know which type works best for you.
- Aversion Therapy
You may have heard of aversion therapy before in a negative connotation. Indeed, this type of behavioral treatment based on classical conditioning has gained a bad reputation over the past few decades. It was widely used in attempts to treat homosexuality by those who believed homosexuality was a mental illness. However, using aversion therapy for this is ineffective and harmful to people, not least because homosexuality is not a behavioral or mental disorder.
At the same time, aversion therapy can help patients get rid of their bad habits, such as smoking, nail-biting, or drinking alcohol. This mental health treatment concept is to create a negative association with the pattern the patient wants to leave behind.
For example, chemical aversion is widely used on patients who want to quit alcohol. Medical professionals prescribe them medication that will make them nauseous and sick if they ingest even a little alcohol. This will create a negative relationship between alcohol and their body’s reaction in the brain, leading them to quit drinking.
Other negative stimuli that can be used are shame, electrical shock, rubber band snapping on the skin, any pain, an unpleasant taste or smell, and similar.
Who can benefit from behavioral therapy?
Behavioral therapy can be used in treating phobias and bad habits, but it also helps in a wide range of mental health disorders. It is a common form of psychotherapy in the following conditions:
- Anxiety disorders
- Anger issues
- Panic disorders
It can also prove helpful (alongside other methods of treatment) in these situations:
- Bipolar disorder
- Phobias, including social phobias
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse treatment
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Behavioral therapy has also shown positive effects in those who suffer from chronic pain. Even though CBT cannot cure the underlying cause of the chronic pain, it can help the patient change their perception of pain. CBT provides pain relief by teaching the patient how to assign better context to their discomfort and it can also reduce stress. With lowered stress, the body’s natural pain relief mechanisms can function better. Of course, other pain management methods shouldn’t be overlooked.
CBT can also help children with an autism spectrum disorder if they also have a mental health condition and people with a borderline personality disorder. These cases are complex, and CBT cannot be the only course of treatment. But when combined with other treatment programs, it can make a world of difference.
Is behavioral therapy right for you?
Behavioral therapy may be just what you need to get back on your feet and start taking control of your life. However, you cannot make this decision on your own. You should contact your primary care doctor or a medical health professional. They will help you find out whether or not you could benefit from behavioral treatment.
In general, CBT cannot cause any harm. You don’t have to worry about any side effects. It is merely a conversation with a trusted professional who wants to help you resolve your life problems.
No matter what you’re struggling with at the moment, even if you don’t have a mental or physical health issue, it might be useful to talk with a CBT therapist all the same. You won’t know how much good it could do until you try it.
Behavioral therapy is one of the most widely accepted forms of talk therapy. It can help a range of mental health and behavioral health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, OCD, and more.
A behavioral treatment program’s main benefits are that a person works on their coping and communication skills, self-esteem, and ability to tackle difficult situations in life. A CBT professional will help them overcome anxieties and fears, and together they will find solutions to problems the patient is facing.
There are four main types of behavioral health treatments: cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral play therapy, aversion therapy, and system desensitization. Which one is right for you should be decided by your behavioral therapist or other professional.
If you feel like this therapy type would be right for you, contact your primary care physician for a diagnostic assessment or referral to the right specialist. CBT should be conducted with a qualified, trained therapist, and you cannot do it on your own.
The Right Way Recovery will love to help if you have any more questions about this topic.
If you need guidance – we will be happy to assist you on your path to improving your mental and behavioral health!