In the unprecedented year of 2020, approximately 40% of US adults reported having mental health or substance abuse issues. At the same time, only a third of those who recognize their problems seek mental health treatment. The most common treatment types for mental health disorders are inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, medication, group therapy, psychiatric hospitalization, and, the topic of our post, behavioral health treatment. But what is behavioral health treatment? 

To better explain the nature of behavioral health treatment, we must first establish the meaning of behavioral health and how it is different from mental and physical health. 

Behavioral vs. Mental Health

Mental health and behavioral health are two terms often used interchangeably. However, they don’t exactly mean the same. 

A mental health disorder is usually the result of flawed brain chemistry or genetics. It can, but doesn’t have to be the result of a specific type of behavior. Some mental health issues that don’t have to be related to behavior are: 

  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder (or any mood disorder)
  • Generalized anxiety disorder and other anxiety disorders

In contrast, a behavioral health disorder results from maladaptive behaviors that can negatively affect mental and physical health. Here are some examples of behavioral health disorders: 

  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorder
  • Sex addiction
  • Gambling

It is often the case that people who have a mental illness can benefit from behavioral health changes. Changes in the individual, family, or community and thinking patterns can help people better handle their mental health condition. 

Behavioral Health Treatment: Definition

Behavioral therapy is a collection of different types of treatment that are focused on treating unhealthy behaviors. Its core concept is that self-destructive or harmful behaviors are learned and therefore can be changed. A behavioral treatment program focuses on the current problems in the patient’s life and how the patient can best approach and attempt to solve them. 

Types of Behavioral Treatment


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)


CBT is a popular form of psychotherapy. It is essentially talk therapy, where mental health professionals have regular conversations with their patients. These conversations aim to resolve current life issues and change the patient’s unhealthy thinking and behavioral patterns. CBT improves emotional regulation and helps a person develop coping strategies for future problems. It is one of the most researched and scientifically validated approaches to cognitive and behavioral treatment in the world.


  • Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy


CBPT is a type of CBT that includes play-based activities meant for children. Children under the age of eight don’t have the necessary language abilities or abstract thinking required for regular CBT, so playing is incorporated into CBT to give them control over their environment while still participating in therapy. 

The therapeutic model of CBPT remains the same: helping the children tackle their problems and treat any disorder they may have developed. The focus is on the child’s feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and environments. Different kinds of traditional play materials are utilized, such as their toys, books, paper and crayons for drawing, and more. 


  • System Desensitization


System desensitization is a type of behavioral therapy based on classic conditioning. It is most commonly used in the treatment of phobias. Depending on the severity of the phobia, a patient may be prescribed up to 12 sessions of desensitization. This approach’s primary purpose is for the patient to eliminate their fear response to the phobia and instead replace it with a relaxation response. 

The patient first learns meaningful breathing and relaxation techniques. They are then gradually exposed to their fear in controlled doses so they can practice these techniques. A behavioral health professional can choose between two main types of system desensitization: in vitro, when the patient imagines their phobic trigger, and in vivo when they are exposed to the trigger.


  • Aversion Therapy


Another type of behavioral treatment based on classic conditioning, aversion therapy, is most effective in fighting bad habits, such as smoking or nail-biting. The principle of aversion therapy is that a person is conditioned to experience a negative response to an unwanted stimulus, such as drinking alcohol. 

Chemical aversion is a common type of treatment, where patients are provided with medication that will make them feel nauseous if they drink alcohol. Other aversion therapy methods could include shame, an unpleasant taste or smell, electrical shock, some type of pain, such as a rubber band snapping, or similar. 

Even though aversion therapy is relatively successful for those who want to quit a bad habit, it has gotten a bad reputation because it was widely used in attempts to treat homosexuality. However, this type of ‘therapy’ is proven to be harmful and ineffective, as homosexuality is not a behavioral or mental disorder.

How to Start Treatment

To get diagnosed with a behavioral health condition and receive the proper treatment, you need to visit a behavioral health provider. This is most often a mental health professional, though your primary caregiver should point you in the right direction. 

As with any mental health issues, you mustn’t self-diagnose or self-treat before you’ve seen a specialist. There may be several factors affecting your condition that you’re not aware of but that a qualified professional will be able to spot and help you. They will also ensure that you undergo the right type of treatment program depending on your disorder. 


Even though behavioral and mental health are frequently lumped together, there is a slight difference between them. A behavioral disorder doesn’t have any hormonal or genetic causes – it is purely an individual’s behavior and thought patterns that bring it about. 

Behavioral health treatment is highly effective in many behavioral and mental health issues. There are different types of behavioral therapy based on the age of the patient, as well as what their health issues are. 

To start your behavioral treatment, it would be best to seek professional help. If you need help finding the right person or would like to ask questions about mental and behavioral assistance, please contact The Right Way Recovery. We would be more than happy to provide you with the information you need to start improving your mental and physical health as soon as possible!