Insight Therapy vs. Behavior Therapy

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

They both aim to assist clients with negative thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors, but there are four key differences between insight and behavior therapy. Learn the definitions and differences between these therapies in this lesson.

What Are Insight and Behavior Therapies?

Vicky is in her twenties and has difficulty in romantic relationships. She has a negative self-esteem and considers herself worthless, which makes her unable to love herself. When she enters romantic relationships, she desperately clings onto the men, hoping they will stay and love her. Should Vicky seek an insight therapist or a behavior therapist?

Insight Therapy

Insight therapy is a form of therapy that helps clients gain insight, or awareness, into the reasons for their negative feelings or destructive thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. Insight therapy operates on the belief that when clients gain this insight, they can begin to make positive changes in their beliefs, thoughts and attitudes.

An insight therapist might attempt to get to the root of Vicky's insecurities so that Vicky could gain insight, or awareness, as to the reason for her low self-esteem. Perhaps the cause is that Vicky's mother was emotionally and physically abusive during Vicky's childhood. If Vicky were to gain an understanding of this, she could begin to make changes in modifying her attitudes and beliefs about herself.

Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy is a form of therapy that helps clients eliminate destructive behaviors that cause negative feelings, and instead cultivate healthy behaviors that lead to happiness and satisfaction. Behavior therapists might use techniques, such as positive reinforcement, to encourage healthy behaviors with their clients, and punishment or extinction methods to decrease or stop negative behaviors.

A behavior therapist might try to identify Vicky's destructive behaviors that scare men away, such as calling them several times in an hour, or telling them that she loves them too early in the relationship. The behavioral therapist might work with Vicky to change these behaviors so that she can have longer-lasting relationships.

Differences Between Insight and Behavior Therapies

While insight and behavior therapy both attempt to change their client's destructive thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and behavior, there are some obvious dissimilarities between these two types of therapy.

Non-directive vs. Directive

Insight therapy is a non-directive type of therapy where the client does most of the talking and is held in high positive regard by the therapist. In the therapist's eyes, the client is a healthy individual who only needs to gain insight into the wrongdoings and negative events in their past that have led their thoughts and beliefs astray.

Behavior therapy is more directive. The therapist and client have more of a reciprocal relationship where the therapist poses questions and offers more guidance than in insight therapy. Instead of the client talking freely like in insight therapy, the client's talking in behavior therapy will be more constructive and focused on the behavior that he or she is trying to change. In each session, goal progress is typically evaluated and new goals are set.

Interest in the Root of the Problem

In insight therapy, the therapist is very interested in getting the root of the client's problem and understanding why they behave and feel certain ways.

The behavior therapist, on the other hand, is not so interested in why a client behaves a certain way and doesn't spend therapeutic time trying to figure it out. Instead, they jump right into the identification of a client's destructive behaviors and set goals of how to decrease or eradicate these behaviors.

Therapeutic Time Frame

Insight therapy is typically more long-term than behavior therapy. In insight therapy, the therapist first spends time establishing a relationship and rapport with the client to establish trust and goodwill. Then the therapist works with the client to explore the client's troubled past so that they can unveil the roots of the client's problems. This helps clients realize, or gain insight, into any unresolved conflicts from the past that are currently negatively affecting their mood and thoughts.

Behavior therapy is considered more short-term than insight therapy. The therapist typically will not spend time delving into a client's troubled childhood, for example, but instead focuses on techniques to change a client's' destructive behaviors.

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