Definition: A form of psychotherapythat is based on the principles of behavioral learning, especially operant conditioning and classical conditioning.

Quite simply....


  • Therapies that specifically treat behavior-related illness, due to the assumption that behaviors are learned and can become unlearned.
  • It primarily focuses on altering the patient's responses, rather than exploring the underlying causes of the undesired behavior.
  • Therapies that treat people who have problems with their fears, aggressions, depression, and other behavioral issues.

Examples of Behavioral Therapies


  • Getting a patient with antisocial behavior to behave in the right manor after going through therapy which rewards appropriate behavior and has negative consequences for innappropriate behavior.
  • If someone had a phobia such as a fear of heights that person might undergo a behavior therapy such as systematic desensitization.
  • Behavior therapy aims to change things outside the individual with rewards, punishments, and cues in the environment.
  • Using a token economy to encourage prefered behavior.
  • If someone had an illness such as depression they would go see a behavioral therapist in order to change their depressed behavior.
  • Parents washing a child's mouth out with soap until they learn to stop saying "bad" words.

Little Peter Experiment


Mary Cover Jones conducted an experiment on a three-year-old named Peter at the Institute of Educational Research, Columbia University Teachers' College. Jones treated Peter's fear of a white rabbit by "direct conditioning", in which a pleasant stimulus (food) was associated with the rabbit. She began her experiment with the goal of finding the most effective way to eliminate irrational fears in children. Peter was chosen for the study because in all other aspects of infant life he was considered to be normal except for his fear of rabbits. Peter was not only afraid of rabbits, but Cover Jones showed he would also cry when presented with other similar items such as, feathers, a fur coat, a fur rug and cotton. Cover Jones first conducted her experiments using a range of different treatments in order to eliminate the fear response in Peter. Cover Jones described her methods used in the Peter study as “patient, meticulous and painstaking procedures,” in order to understand what was taking place. This is a method that she learned from her mentor Watson. Cover Jones initiated the study having the rabbit 12 feet from Peter and brought the rabbit closer until it was nibbling on Peter’s fingers. As the rabbit was gradually brought closer to Peter with the presence of his favorite food (candy), his fear subsided and he eventually was able to touch the rabbit without crying. This study by Cover Jones is considered by some to be a defining landmark in behavioral therapy and was a breakthrough in how behaviorism could be studied and manipulated in the laboratory. Due to the rediscovery of this research in the 1970’s, Cover Jones was considered “the mother of behavioral therapy” by her friend Wolpe and other colleagues.


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Additional Resources



1. http://www.abct.org/Public/?m=mPublic&fa=WhatIsCBTpublic

2. http://www.healthline.com/galecontent/behavioral-therapy