Behavior Modification Therapy

Behavior modification therapy is a type of psychological therapy that focuses on thinking patterns, behavior patterns, and an individual’s general habits. Through the different techniques used in this style of therapy, negative behaviors are unlearned and replaced with healthy and more positive ones. 

The behavior modification model is a beneficial tool for those struggling with addiction as it can enable individuals to move past their negative habits to create healthy thoughts and perspectives. By taking control of your own behaviors and responses to them, you give yourself the power to shape your own life. 

How Does Behavior Modification Therapy Work?

Although not introduced into the world of psychotherapy until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, behavior modification is now a standard practice. In fact, most people who seek psychological services will have behavior modification included in their treatment plan to some degree. 

Behavior modification techniques focus on altering the individuals behaviors by changing their environment, their perspective on specific thoughts and experiences, as well as their mental association with different physical realities. 

A therapist using this method could be trying to increase the frequency of healthy behaviors, decrease the frequency of harmful behaviors, or both at the same time. Either way, tangible change in a specific behavior is the ultimate goal. This method is formed based on the general idea that behaviors are learned and not fixed, and therefore able to be altered through intentional influence.

An important concept in behavior modification therapy is the idea of “reinforcement”. This term comes up quite a bit throughout this therapy approach. Positive reinforcement is when something is added into the situation as a response in order to increase the frequency of a behavior. Negative reinforcement is when something is removed in order to decrease the frequency of the behavior.

This technique relies on the idea that behaviors can be conditioned through intentional reinforcement or punishment. For example, giving a child an ice cream if they clean their room is positive reinforcement. Taking away their phone for not doing their homework is negative. 

The Theory Behind Behavior Modification Therapy

How-Does-Behavior-Modification-Therapy-WorkBehavior modification originated from the works of B. F Skinner and Pavlov. Pavlov, the infamous psychologist who ran the very well-known ‘Pavlov’s Dogs’ experiment, studied how events and behaviors are associated with the specific reactions to them. His theories introduced ideas that would later inspire many psychologists, such as B.F. Skinner, to further develop the ideas of reinforcement and behavior conditioning.

Most of these early studies on conditioning and behavior modification were done on animals. Since animals can be observed more closely for longer periods of time without having to take breaks, most behavioral studies during the 1900s were focused on animals to start. 

Pavlov’s experiment was centered around trying to condition when an animal would salivate. Originally, the dogs would salivate at the sight of food. Yet, he discovered that any object or event which the dogs learned to associate with food (such as the lab assistant bringing the food) would trigger the same response. 

He tried many different techniques such as positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, and changing the environment. Pavlov and other’s works concluded that, by changing the external response to a behavior, you can condition behaviors in a specific way. Since then this idea has been extended to include that by changing your own response to your own behavior, you can change the behavior.

Behavior Modification Treatment Techniques for Addiction 

In the case of addiction, using drugs is positively reinforced through the temporary positive feelings of being high or drunk. Additionally, the agonizing feelings of withdrawal or craving are similar to the concept of negative reinforcement in which something is taken away. Both of these reactions to addiction will drive the individual to increase their frequency of substance use. 

The high is not the only reinforcement. Social circles, status, relationships, and emotional trauma can all play a part in the conditioning of drug use. When engaging in behavioral modification therapy at a treatment center, some of the techniques that may be beneficial include:

  • Positive Reinforcement: Positive reinforcement is praising or rewarding a behavior which then associates the behavior as something to strive for. Celebrating and praising healthy habits and sobriety can help the individual want to continue with these positive habits. 
  • Negative Reinforcement: Negative reinforcement will include negative feedback on poor habits, taking privileges away, or even in severe cases lock up. While unlikely, the idea is that associating a behavior with negativity and consequences will decrease the desire to entertain those habits. 
  • Goal Setting: Setting goals can help individuals gain clear direction about where they want their life and behaviors to go. By setting goals, individuals can increase the frequency of behaviors that help them reach their goal, and decrease the frequency of habits that push them off track. 
  • Conditioning: Classic conditioning involves associating negative feelings with negative behaviors. For example, associating shame or guilt with drugs or the things drugs causes some people to do will teach the individual to value sobriety and 

Individualized Behavior Modification Programs

Behavior-Modification-Treatment-Techniques-for-AddictionEvery aspect of an addiction treatment program should be individualized, behavior modification included. Not every type of reinforcement will have the same effect on each person. An individual’s personal, emotional, and physical state/history will affect what will impact their behaviors. Before planning a modification program, the psychologist will want to get a deep understanding of the following things:

  • Core values
  • Likes/dislikes
  • Drug history
  • Family history
  • Sexual history
  • Physical health
  • Dual diagnoses  
  • Relationship history
  • Childhood experiences
  • Any unresolved trauma 
  • Mental health conditions

Some people will be more responsive to certain individuals, certain stimuli, verbal vs. physical reinforcement, etc. Once a person begins to get used to the reinforcement plan, they may also need to adjust along the way. If someone becomes too accustomed to the reinforcement, they may seek deeper or new validation. 

The idea of reinforcement ties into how humans (and animals!) condition themselves, or are conditioned to behave and think in certain ways. So, if a person believes that verbal praise means they are doing well, they might base their opinion on themselves on the frequency of praise. Similarly, if a person gets so used to verbal praise that it becomes less meaningful, they may need to try using a new reinforcement. 

A professional psychotherapist will be able to detect when a change in the behavior modification program is needed, as well as better analyze what techniques will work best. 

This type of treatment works best alongside other therapy treatments, including individual therapy and group therapy. Having a deeper understanding of the individual’s psychological background and state will enable the doctor to comprehend what modification techniques will be most useful. 

The Benefits of Behavioral Modification 

Behavior-Modification-TherapyBehavioral modification therapy can be helpful for so many conditions, especially drug addiction! The behaviors with drug addiction align with the things that we condition ourselves to believe something is good or bad for us. 

One of the biggest things clients often take from behavior modification therapy is confidence. When you learn that you are in control of your behavior and what you respond to, you can feel more powerful and less like a victim in your own life. Where once you may have fallen victim to addictive substances, behavior modification can teach you to put your power into your own hands and overcome your victim mindset. 

A lot of people think the goal of addiction therapy is just going back to the level of health and wellbeing that you were at prior to addiction. The real goal, however, is to come out even better! Although some people become addicted to drugs without having pre-existing mental health conditions or unresolved trauma, there is a strong emotional association in most cases. Behavior modification can help with:

  • Self-control
  • Communication
  • Social situations
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Goal setting/achieving 
  • Negative thinking patterns
  • Self-sabotaging beliefs/behaviors 

Behavior modification therapy can help you re-form core habits and ideas that led you to unhealthy lifestyles. This will enable you to both overcome addiction and maintain a sober living and give you tools to build a life you are happy and proud to live. 

Behavior Modification Therapy at North Jersey Recovery Center

Our lives are shaped by the choices we make every day. Negative patterns in our lives stem from cycles of beliefs and reactive behaviors. Behavior modification techniques can reshape the way you approach your life and your ideas about yourself and the world. 

North Jersey Recovery Center offers a full rehabilitation program for those suffering from addiction. Along with our other styles of talk therapy, holistic therapy, mindfulness, and other treatments for addiction, we implement behavior modification for those seeking to improve their lives. Our goal is to not only help you recover from substance abuse, but also to help you gain tools and insights to create the life you deserve. 

If you or someone you love is suffering from substance abuse and is interested in learning more about our behavior modification programs, contact us for more information. We look forward to walking with you on your journey to recovery.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.