Five Behavioral Modification Techniques in CBT

Behavior modification aims to eliminate unwanted behaviors and replace them with more effective ones. It is a method for changing behavior based on the theories of conditioning. One of the key tenets of behavior therapy is that “if a behavior is learned, then it can also be unlearned." The goal of behavioral training is to teach people how to act in ways more likely to result in positive outcomes.

Key takeaways:
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    Behavioral modification is an extensively researched psychotherapy technique used in children and adults to remove or minimize harmful behaviors.
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    Behavioral modification aims to improve a person's participation in positive and socially reinforcing activities.
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    Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on a person's present difficulties, as opposed to past issues.
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    CBT aims to teach individuals that it is possible to control how they think, feel, and behave, leading to a more productive and happy life.

What is behavior modification?

Behavior modification is the process of changing people's long-term patterns of behavior by using creative strategies to elicit positive and long-term change.

There are many approaches and ideologies for addressing "unacceptable," "abnormal," or destructive behavior. Behavior modification is different from other approaches and theories because it is only concerned with actions that can be observed and measured. This is in contrast to psychoanalytic theory, which tries to find the underlying cause (like a traumatic childhood) of behavior.

Positive reinforcement

B.F. Skinner, well-known for his research on operant conditioning, proposed the theory that if an action induces negative consequences, then the action or behavior is less likely to be repeated. However, actions with positive consequences are more likely to be repeated.

He called this idea the "principle of reinforcement." In other words, the behavior modification model Skinner proposed is an approach to changing behavior that uses positive and negative consequences to break bad habits or reinforce good ones.

Maintaining new behaviors

It's easy to change the way we think or make a decision to change, but the hard part is sustaining the new behavior. Anyone can say they want to get in shape, join a gym, and then find a myriad of excuses about why they can't keep it up, or they can say they want to stop smoking but then give in to a few cravings. The difficulty is maintaining the new behaviors.

Changing a smoker's behavior to a more desired one by vaping or chewing gum is an example of a strategy that may be used to elicit behavioral modification. When a child meets certain behavior goals, like staying quiet and not talking over others in the class, they receive a reward from the teacher. This is an example of positive reinforcement.

Behavioral modification can help children learn good habits and stop bad ones if done consistently and with positive reinforcement. The method works best if the reward is always given along with the desired behavior. A good example of positive behavior modification is using a sticker chart to reward a youngster for doing something as simple as making their bed every morning.

CBT and behavioral change

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a talking therapy that seeks to modify the way we think (cognition) and behave (behavior) to help us deal with and manage difficulties that may arise in our lives. It is predicated on the concept that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are intricately intertwined and mutually impact one another.

If we have negative thoughts and emotions, this will lead to unhelpful behavior, which can develop into a vicious cycle of additional negative thoughts and behaviors.

The goal of CBT is to teach us how to recognize unhealthy behaviors, break issues down into their parts, and address them in a new manner so that we may feel better.

5 CBT techniques to try

1. Facing fears: exposure

"Feel the fear and do it anyway" is an inspirational quote by Susan Jeffers.

It's common to want to avoid the things you dread since doing so momentarily eases your anxiety. In CBT, addressing your fears is known as "exposure," and it is the most crucial stage in learning to properly control your anxiety.

Exposure therapy works by slowly exposing you to more and more of your fears. Small, incremental steps can help you gain control over your fears.

Beginning with the situation that gives you the least amount of anxiety, frequently engage in that activity or confront that situation until you begin to feel less nervous doing it. You are ready to move on to the next step on your list when you can face that same situation over and over again without feeling too scared. If you want to use this method safely and effectively, it's best to work with a CBT therapist who is familiar with the techniques.

2. Reframing unproductive thinking

It is normal to feel down occasionally; however, at times, our worrisome thoughts can be counterproductive. Be aware of what you're telling yourself or thinking. Most of us don't pay much attention to what we think, even though our thoughts always affect us. Remember that negative thoughts produce negative emotions, which in turn lead to ineffective behaviors.

3. Journaling for solutions

Keeping a journal helps you determine the source of your problem. Once you start thinking negatively, write down what is upsetting you in a short phrase and consider approaches to solving the situation. A defining characteristic of depression is despair or the doubt that circumstances will ever improve. Therefore, creating a list of things you can do to improve a situation can help alleviate feelings of depression.

4. Positive affirmations to combat negative thinking

Create a positive affirmation for every negative thought. Remember your positive affirmations, and say them to yourself when you have a negative thought, or a little voice in your head tries to stop you from thinking positively. Over time, you will develop new connections, replacing negative thoughts with more optimistic ones.

5. Relaxation techniques

Muscle tightness and shallow breathing are both associated with worry and stress (and sometimes depression). Therefore, it is essential to become aware of these physical feelings and to routinely perform relaxation activities.

“Calm breathing” and “Progressive muscle relaxation” are two techniques often used in CBT. Calm breathing requires actively slowing down the breath, while progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves gradually tensing and relaxing distinct muscle groups.

If you feel yourself falling back into your old ways of thinking or behaving, don't give up. It is important to remember that relapse is a normal element of trying to alter one's behavior and not a sign of failure. You can always start again and either unlearn an old behavior or learn a new, more effective one.


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