Behavioral Approaches in Therapy

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  • 0:01 Different Approaches
  • 0:52 Stimulus-Response
  • 1:40 Applied Behavior Analysis
  • 3:24 Social-Cognitive Theory
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

What is the relationship between the stimulus-response model, applied behavior analysis, social-cognitive theory, and changing behavior? Is there really more than one way to look at behavioral therapy?

Different Approaches

An 8-year-old boy is playing a video game. He gets frustrated with the game, and he throws his controller across the room. What do you think his mother will do?

Will she play video games with her son and model appropriate behavior? Will she ground him from playing video games for a week? Will she ignore the behavior and reward him with a treat and praise when he acts in a more positive way the next time he becomes frustrated?

Like the previous example, behavior therapy can also be approached in different ways. Behavior therapy is a therapeutic approach that applies the principles of learning to the resolution of specific behaviors.

This lesson will provide a brief overview of two approaches to behavior therapy: applied behavior analysis and social-cognitive theory.


In order to understand these approaches, we must first understand the stimulus-response model that all behavior is based on to some extent. The stimulus-response model is the belief that behavior is the result of a reaction to some event.

This event is the stimulus. A stimulus could be a spider, a math test, or a comment that offends you. A stimulus is anything that you have a behavioral reaction to. Your reaction to the stimulus is your response. Your response could be fear when you see a spider, anxiety when you have a math test, or anger when someone offends you. When you have an unhealthy response to a stimulus, an intervention needs to take place to change your response to the situation.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis is a technique that applies the principles of reinforcement and punishment to learning. Applied behavioral analysis addresses a client's problems by changing what occurs before a behavior and changing the result of the behavior. The two main tools used to accomplish this are reinforcement and punishment.

There are two types of reinforcement: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement refers to the addition of something positive, such as offering a treat when a desired behavior is displayed. Negative reinforcement involves the removal of something undesirable when a behavior is displayed. An example would be a headache going away after taking an aspirin.

There are also two types of punishment: positive punishment and negative punishment. Positive punishment is the addition of something undesirable, such as a child receiving extra chores for misbehaving. Negative punishment is the removal of something pleasing, such as a child losing video game privileges for misbehavior.

Applied behavioral analysis can be used with almost any observable behavior. When behavioral principals are applied to everyday situations, targeted behaviors can either be increased or decreased over time.

operant conditioning graphic

Applied behavioral analysis is used to help with the acquisition of many different skills, such as language or social skills. It is also used to help decrease maladaptive behaviors, such as aggression or self-injury. In recent years, applied behavioral analysis has gained the most attention from its use with children who have autism spectrum disorders.

Social-Cognitive Theory

Social-cognitive theory is an approach that considers the effects of interaction between the environment, personal factors, and individual behavior. This interaction creates a triangle of reciprocity. A person's ongoing functioning is a product of this continuous interaction.


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