Behavioral Therapy for Mental Health: How It’s Used in Treatment

In recent times, behavioral therapy for mental health has become a trending topic. Star athletes like Kevin Love and celebrities like Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez have gone out of their way to discuss their problems with mental health issues like anxiety. With the gigantic platform they have, it’s helped break the stigma that has long been attached to mental illness. It makes you wonder, why is behavioral therapy and reaching out for help stigmatized?

The fear of being stigmatized by others is one of the primary reasons people avoid professional help. Unfortunately, this stigma can also be internalized, which further reduces their odds of seeking help. Understanding the various forms of stigma that exist in society can help break the cycle and help people overcome the barriers needed to seek behavioral therapy for their mental health. 

The number one reason people avoid treatment is because of their concern about stigma, which is because of the public view of others having a mental illness. Public stigma is society’s rejection of someone because of their behavior or physical appearance that’s deemed unacceptable, frightening, or even dangerous. In modern society, the mentally ill aren’t persecuted like in the past, but it’s clear the stigma still exists towards those who deal with mental illness.

Unfortunately, the number of those struggling with mental illness is very high. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults experiences mental illness each year. Another one in 20 adults experiences severe mental illness each year. One in six kids and teens between the ages of six and 17 struggle with mental health disorders each year. The same study found that 50 percent of all lifetime mental illnesses start at age 14, and 75 percent by age 24. While there’s no proof of connection, the stigma surrounding mental health could contribute to suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in those between the ages of ten and 34.

The most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States include:

These figures highlight the severity of mental illness in our country and the need for treatment. Fortunately, 44.8 percent of adults in the United States with mental illness received treatment for their condition in 2019. An estimated 65.5 percent of adults in the U.S. received treatment for their mental illness, and 50.6 percent of youth between six and 17 got help in 2016. However, despite these promising figures, a significant amount of people are not getting the help they need. 

For those who don’t get their mental health under control, it can lead to other adverse health effects. For example, those with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing metabolic and cardiovascular disease than the general population. Those with severe mental illness are twice as likely to develop these conditions. In addition to untreated mental health, 18.4 percent of adults with mental illness also had a substance use disorder (SUD). 

If you’re struggling with a mental health condition, it’s vital to seek behavioral therapy. You should take pride in treating your mental health and never fall victim to public stigma or self-stigma. By avoiding help, you’re doing your brain, body, family, and friends a disservice. It’s time to learn more about behavioral therapy and how it can help you overcome mental illness. These methods can be life-changing and serve to improve the quality of your life. If you’re struggling with your mental health, never feel like you shouldn’t get the help you need.

What Is Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy, sometimes known as psychotherapy, is geared toward helping individuals understand their feelings and provide them with tools to face new challenges, both in the now and the future. Behavioral therapy is similar to counseling, and the two can even overlap. However, behavioral therapy looks more deeply, addresses the underlying causes of someone’s problem, and helps them solve it. 

In order for the individual to see positive results, they’ll need to understand the necessity for change and follow the treatment plan as the therapist advises. It’s also important to find a suitable therapist you can trust. 

Behavioral therapy can help people with low self-esteem, depression, addiction, grief, and other issues that leave them feeling overwhelmed. It can also help a person with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and some other mental health condition. While behavioral therapy is extremely helpful, many people will take medications in conjunction with treatment. This can help treat chemical imbalances that therapy alone cannot fix. 

Benefits of Behavioral Therapy 

During a behavioral therapy session, you’ll speak with a doctor or licensed mental health care professional to identify and fix troubling thoughts. There are immense benefits when it comes to treating mental illness with behavioral therapy. These benefits include the following:

  • Behavioral therapy can help you understand the emotions, behaviors, and ideas that contribute to your mental illness and learn how to modify them.
  • Behavioral therapy will help you identify the life issues or events, such as a death in the family, major illness, divorce, or loss of job, that contribute to your mental illness and allows you to understand which aspect of these issues you can either solve or improve. 
  • Behavioral therapy will help you regain a sense of pleasure and control in your life.
  • Behavioral therapy will allow you to learn healthy problem-solving skills and coping techniques. 

Reasons to Seek Out Behavioral Therapy

There are various reasons as to why a person might seek out behavioral therapy, and these include the following:

  • It’s possible you’re enduring severe long-term stress from a family situation, from a job, the loss of a loved one, family issues, or problems in your relationship.
  • You might be experiencing symptoms with no physical explanation, including low energy, changes in appetite or sleep, a lack of interest or pleasure in activities you once found joy in, worry, persistent irritability, hopelessness that won’t go away, or a sense of discouragement. 
  • Your healthcare provider suspects or diagnoses you with an anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or any other condition that’s interfering with your life, where behavioral therapy is recommended as the first treatment. 
  • You might seek treatment for a child or family member who is diagnosed with conditions that affect mental health, and for someone, a healthcare provider recommends treatment. 

An exam by your primary care physician can rule out other issues that would explain these symptoms. This is a vital step because symptoms like trouble concentrating or changes in mood can be caused by certain medical conditions. 

Behavioral Therapy and Other Treatment Options

Behavioral therapy is often used as an alternative to medicine or can be used in conjunction with other treatment options, such as prescription medications. Choosing the proper treatment plan must be based on your individual needs and medical situation, orchestrated by a mental health professional. 

Even when prescription drugs prescribed by a mental health professional relieve symptoms, behavioral therapy along with other interventions will help address specific issues and get to the root of the individual’s problems. This includes fears, self-defeating ways of thinking, dealing with situations at school, home, work, or problems interacting with others. 

Elements of Behavioral Therapy

Various types of behavioral therapy and interventions have been shown to treat specific disorders. For example, the treatment approach for someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder will vary from someone with bipolar disorder. Behavioral therapists might use a single method or incorporate other elements depending on the condition treated, their training, and the needs of the individual getting treatment. 

Elements of behavioral therapy include:

  • Helping an individual become aware of ways to think that may be automatic but are harmful or inaccurate. One example includes someone who has a low opinion of their abilities. A behavioral therapist will help the individual find ways to question these negative thoughts, help them understand how they affect behavior and emotions, and work with them to change self-defeating patterns. This approach is common in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Identifying specific ways to cope with stress and develop problem-solving strategies.
  • Examine the individual’s interactions with others and provide guidance with social communication skills
  • Relaxation and mindfulness techniques, including breathing exercises and meditation.
  • Exposure therapy for those with anxiety disorders is another element of behavioral therapy. During exposure therapy, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, the individual will spend brief periods in a supportive environment and learn how to tolerate stress caused by certain ideas, items, or imagined scenes. The longer a person stays in therapy, the more likely the fears attributed to these things will dissipate.
  • Tracking behaviors and emotions to raise awareness and the impact of each of these. 
  • Supportive counseling that helps people explore troubling issues and offer emotional support 
  • Creating safety plans to help those with thoughts of self-harm or suicide recognize the warning signs and implement coping strategies, including contacting family, friends, or emergency personnel. 

There are many types of psychotherapy. Some are variations on an established approach like CBT. There is no formal approval process for behavioral therapy like there is for prescription medications from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

However, for several therapies, research that involves significant numbers of patients has shown evidence that treatment is effective for specific disorders, known as “evidence-based therapies.” These have been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other disorders. 

Types of Behavioral Therapy

behavioral therapy for mental health

There are various behavioral therapies used to treat mental health used in treatment. Below we’ll highlight the most effective in detail.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment proven effective in treating anxiety disorders, depression, marital problems, alcohol and drug use issues, eating disorders, and severe mental illness. There are various studies suggesting that cognitive behavioral therapy leads to a dramatic improvement in quality of life and functioning. In many of these studies, CBT has proven to be as effective as, or more effective than, other types of psychological therapy or psychiatric medicine. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is different from other types of psychological treatment and is based on several core principles. These include the following:

  • Psychological issues are based on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
  • Psychological issues are based on learned patterns of unhelpful behaviors. 
  • Individuals battling psychological issues can learn better ways of coping with them. This allows them to relieve their symptoms and become more effective in their daily lives. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy typically involves efforts to change thought patterns. The strategies include the following:

  • Learning to recognize distortions in thought that causes problems, and then re-evaluating them in the light of reality 
  • Allowing you to gain a better understanding of the motivation and behavior of others.
  • Use problem-solving skills to cope with challenging situations
  • Learn how to develop confidence in your abilities. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy will also try to change behavioral patterns with the following strategies:

  • Facing your fears instead of avoiding them.
  • Learning to calm your mind and relax your body.
  • Use role-playing to prepare for the possibility of problematic interactions with people.

It’s important to note that not all cognitive behavioral therapy sessions will implement all of these strategies. The psychologist and patient will work together to develop an understanding of the problem and proceed with a treatment strategy. 

CBT places emphasis on helping people learn to be their own therapists. This happens through exercises known as homework, which take place outside of sessions. The patient will develop coping skills and learn to change their own problematic thinking, emotions, and behavior. 

Who Benefits From Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

Those struggling with the following will benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy:

  • PTSD
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Sexual disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy is a behavioral therapy that focuses on relieving symptoms by improving interpersonal functioning. It will address current issues and relationships instead of developmental or childhood issues. Therapists will be active, non-neutral, and supportive, offering options for change. Interpersonal therapy is:

  • Time-limited (the active phase typically lasts from 12 to 16 weeks)
  • Structured
  • Focuses on communication and interpersonal relationships
  • Focuses on present relationships
  • Focuses on improving social support and interpersonal functioning.
  • Delivered in one-to-one and group formats

One central idea in interpersonal therapy is that psychological symptoms are understood as a response to present challenges in everyday relationships with others. It focuses on four areas that include the following:

  • Life changes, including job loss or the birth of a child that affects how you feel about yourself or others. 
  • Conflicts in relationships that are a primary source of distress and tension.
  • Grief and loss.
  • Challenges initiating or maintaining relationships.

When individuals learn effective strategies to deal with their relationship issues, their symptoms typically improve.

Who Benefits From Interpersonal Therapy?

Interpersonal therapy is most commonly used during the acute phase of major depression, but it can also be used as a maintenance treatment that helps prevent relapse and recurrence of the illness. IPT is also used to treat the following:

  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders, including dysthymic and bipolar disorder
  • Chronic fatigue

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is characterized as the psychological interpretation of emotional and mental processes. This approach is rooted in traditional psychoanalysis and draws from ego psychology, object relationships, and self-psychology. It was created as a simpler, less-lengthy alternative to psychoanalysis. It aims to address the foundation and formation of psychological processes, which seek to reduce symptoms and improve a person’s life. 

In psychodynamic therapy, your therapist will gain insight into your personal life and current problems. They’ll also evaluate the patterns you develop over time. Therapists do this by reviewing specific life factors with a person in therapy, including the following:

  • Beliefs
  • Early-life experiences
  • Emotions
  • Thoughts

Recognizing these recurring issues will help a person see how they develop defense mechanisms and avoid distress to cope. The insight could allow them to start changing these patterns. Psychodynamic therapists will encourage their patients to speak freely about their desires, emotions, and fears. By enabling the patient to be open, it could help reveal vulnerable feelings that are pushed out by conscious awareness. The psychodynamic theory believes our behavior is influenced by unconscious thought. When a vulnerable or painful feeling is processed, defense mechanisms will reduce or resolve. 

Who Benefits From Psychodynamic Therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is effective in treating a broad range of mental health symptoms; these include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic and stress-related physical ailments

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a form of behavioral counseling that helps family members resolve conflict and improve communication. It’s typically provided by a clinical social worker, psychologist, or licensed therapist. It’s typically short-term and might include all family members or those willing to participate. The specific treatment plan is dependent on your family’s situation. Family therapy sessions will teach you skills that deepen family connections and push you through stressful times. What you learn in therapy will persist long after you’re finished with therapy. 

The objective of family therapy is to improve troubled relationships with your family members, partner, or children. It allows you to address specific issues that include finances, marital problems, the impact of substance abuse, or mental illness on the entire family. 

  • Family therapy will help family members cope if a relative is dealing with a severe illness like schizophrenia.
  • Family therapy will help members in the event of addiction while the person with the substance use disorder is in addiction treatment. In some cases, the family can seek out therapy even if the addict hasn’t sought treatment. 

Family therapy is vital in any situation that causes grief, anger, stress, or conflict. It can help you and the family understand each other and develop coping skills that bring you closer together. 

Behavioral Therapy and Medication

Behavioral therapy is routinely used in conjunction with prescription medication to treat mental health conditions. In some cases, medicine is clearly useful, while behavioral therapy works better for others. However, for many people, both medication and behavioral therapy are better together than alone. Improving lifestyle choices, such as regular exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep, can also be important in overall wellness and supporting recovery. 

If you’ve been struggling with any of the conditions we’ve mentioned above, you shouldn’t ever feel uncomfortable about seeking help. Behavioral therapy is a crucial portion of the treatment process and can help get you on the right track. It’s better to feel comfortable in your own skin than worry about what others think. If you’ve considered getting help, there is no time better than the present to do it. Make sure to reach out to your medical provider today to weigh your options and see what therapy might work best for you.

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