Assessing the Behavioral/Learning Model in Psychotherapy

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  • 0:08 Behavioral Model
  • 1:45 Benefits
  • 3:01 Drawbacks
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Behavioral therapy is a popular way to treat certain psychological disorders. But how well does it work? And is it the best choice? In this lesson, we'll explore the strengths and weaknesses of the behavioral model of abnormality.

Behavioral Model

Whit has always been a nervous guy, but recently it's gotten worse. He's so obsessed with everything that might go wrong that he can't function normally. He's scared to leave the house because he might get hit by a bus, or fall and break his leg, or catch a virus and die. His thoughts race and he feels anxious whenever he thinks about how many ways his life could be ruined.

Cassidy doesn't have any problems with anxiety the way Whit does. She's pretty happy and well-adjusted. She sees the possibilities in each day and is generally optimistic. There's just one problem: Cassidy can't seem to be sexually intimate with anyone. Even when she's in love, she just freezes up and can't get turned on enough to have intercourse. It's been this way for as long as she can remember, and she just doesn't know what to do about it.

Both Whit and Cassidy are suffering from psychological disorders. Abnormal psychology studies psychological issues and how best to treat them. But just as Whit and Cassidy have different disorders, psychologists have different ideas about how to treat patients. Some view mental illness just as that - an illness. They look for an underlying cause to explain why people feel, think, or behave the way they do.

The behavioral model of abnormality, on the other hand, says that learned behaviors are the problem. It doesn't look for an underlying cause to explain symptoms. To behavioral theorists, the symptoms are the problem. There's nothing more to it. Let's look closer at some of the benefits and drawbacks of the behavioral model of abnormal psychology.


There are many benefits to the behavioral approach. First of all, it has a high success rate. Patients who have impulse control issues and anxiety find behavioral therapy particularly helpful, though it is used with many different types of patients.

Someone like Whit, for example, might find behavioral therapy helpful. Because he has anxiety, a behavioral therapist might teach him coping strategies like meditation and relaxation techniques. The therapy might also teach Whit to lower his anxiety level through desensitization, a process of relaxing while being exposed to the cause of anxiety.

Another benefit of the behavioral model is that it is more scientific than many other approaches to psychology. When Freud and his followers wondered what was going on in the subconscious, they didn't have any way to measure it. As a result, their theories are not scientifically proven. Instead, they are guesses at what might be true.

Though you can't measure subconscious thoughts and desires, you can measure a person's behavior. The behavioral approach was founded on the idea that psychology is a science, and therefore its theories should be proven with scientific research. As a result, it tends to be more scientific than other approaches.

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