Behavior Modification Treatment (BMT) is a practically applied therapy through which undesirable behaviors are decreased, while at the same time desirable behaviors are increased. This form of therapy was developed in the 1940’s by psychologist B.F. Skinner. BMT is a form of therapy proven to be very effective for a wide variety of disorders, and is applicable for both children and adults. Behavior modification therapists teach basic skills to patients, helping them learn self-awareness through developing new, healthier behaviors.
How Does Behavior Modification Treatment Decrease Negative Behaviors?
Disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many other mental health issues all manifest through dysfunctional behavior. For example, an individual with ADHD may be inattentive, disruptive and prone to emotional outbursts. A behavioral modification therapist observes, analyzes and measures the maladaptive manifested behaviors, using them as a baseline for which to measure successful change against. The initial facets of behavior that a BMT therapist analyzes are:
- Antecedent – This is the environmental or psychological stimulus that directly precedes a behavior. Using our ADHD patient as an example, boredom is often a common psychological antecedent to disruptive behavior.
- Consequence – The consequence is the event caused by and following the performed behavior. Although our ADHD patient may experience undesirable consequences for being disruptive, he achieves the outcome of dispelling his boredom.
By determining what directly precedes a behavior, both the therapist and patient can work to appropriately prepare different behavioral responses to common antecedents of troubled behavior. Understanding the variables that control seemingly bizarre behaviors can help the actions to be understood and appropriately addressed. BMT views behaviors objectively, as quantifiable and controllable reactions to the external environment.
How Does Behavior Modification Treatment Change Behavior?
Essentially, good behavior must be reinforced and bad behavior must be punished in order to affect change. However, a behavior modification therapist takes a nuanced and extremely analytical approach to this deceptively simple premise. A therapist breaks down each facet of behavior into separate compartments so that each component of a behavior may be appropriately reinforced or punished. Each step brings the patient closer to realizing appropriate and constructive behaviors. Consistency and focus is important to a successful behavioral change program, and therapists strategically decide upon the most effective reinforcers on an individually determined basis. Through behavior modification, patients are able to realize new opportunities by addressing maladaptive behaviors.
Reinforcement versus Punishment
Altering the consequences experienced from performing a specific behavior is where the majority of BMT therapy is focused. Negative and positive reinforcement or punishment are the processes through which therapists affect change.
- Negative Reinforcement – Negative reinforcement, often misinterpreted as punishment, doesn’t mean that something bad or undesirable happens in conjunction with a behavior. Negative reinforcement encourages a behavior by removing something that is present in the environment, creating a favorable outcome. This increases the likelihood of the behavior being repeated in order to get rid of an undesired stimulus each time it occurs. Our ADHD patient may cry or scream when presented with a difficult test. His teacher stops the test process, resulting in the test not being delivered.
- Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement develops behaviors through adding a desired outcome, as opposed to removing a stimulus as seen with negative reinforcement. An example of this would be our ADHD patient receiving praise or a treat after sitting through a meeting or class without disruption.
- Negative Punishment – Negative punishment works by taking away a desired stimulus as a result of acting out an undesired behavior. Our ADHD patient may lose his job or be expelled from school as a result of his disruptive behavior, taking away either his income or chances of graduation.
- Positive Punishment – Positive punishment may sounds like a contradiction in terms, so it is easier to think of as punishment by application. An undesirable consequence is added to the situation following a behavior. Our ADHD patient may receive a written demerit at work, or be assigned cleaning chores in school for causing problems in class.
Although punishment may be used in some particular cases of BMT, reinforcement is the preferred method through which to produce behavioral changes. Punishment only teaches a person what not to do, doing very little to foster new ways of coping and behaving. Punitive actions can also take an emotional toll on patients, making them more prone to aggression or anger.
Success of Behavioral Modification Therapy
BMT is considered to be an extremely effective method of therapy for patients suffering from a variety of disorders. Due to the analytical principles of behavioral and reinforcement functioning, the progress of patients undergoing BMT is easily documented and observed by the therapist. Unlike psychotherapy or drug-therapy, clear goals with transparent treatment schedules are formulated and measurably fulfilled during the course of treatment. BMT is often used as part of a multi-modal therapy approach that includes drug-therapy and psychotherapy, contributing to the effectiveness of these approaches. BMT patients enjoy stunningly high rates of success after undergoing therapy:
- OCD – Success rates as high as 80 percent have been recorded in adults with OCD who undergo an intensive BMT treatment regimen.
- ADHD – Although BMT is not a quick-fix approach for ADHD like drugs such as Ritalin, it has been shown to be highly effective. Children who receive medication therapy for ADHD do experience a quick rise in academic performance. However, long-term continuity of academic performance improvement on medication tends to taper off, while children who receive behavioral therapy make slower, more sustainable and lasting academic improvements.
- GAD – Behavioral therapy is an important part of treating the disabling anxiety patients of GAD suffer. Studies show that BMT can affect positive change in a large number of individuals in certain groups.
- Addiction – Addiction treatment requires attention to detail, consistency and constant evaluation, making it very well suited for BMT. Behavioral therapy is recognized as one of the most effective components of addiction treatment. Not only does BMT help to change addictive behaviors, it helps to address underlying issues that contribute to addiction, such as depression and anxiety.
- PTSD – Behavioral modification has been shown to be the most effective type of therapy to address PTSD. Learning the triggers for trauma-induced behaviors helps patients to reorganize their emotional responses and cope with uncomfortable feelings.
Behavioral modification treatment can help nearly anyone suffering from a mental or emotional disorder to live a happier and healthier life. Drug-therapy and other modalities of treatment can be easily worked into a BMT treatment program, further increasing the chances of successful recovery. Learning how to behave in an appropriate and constructive manner in response to triggering stimuli is an immediate effect of undergoing behavioral therapy. BMT helps people to realize their goals by altering unsupportive thoughts and actions to develop into functional and well adapted responses.