Home » Frequently Asked Questions About ABA » What are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

What are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

Image of a brain and stethoscope for our FAQ What are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

For the diverse range of mental health conditions and needs, there are many different types of behavioral therapy available. While many of these methods can be facilitated by a general mental health counselor or psychologist, some, in fact, do require the abilities of a specialist. Nonetheless, here is a sample of the wide field of behavior therapy approaches today.

Another helpful resource: Top 30 Online Master’s in School Counseling

Psychoanalytic Therapy

Psychoanalytic therapy is a type of behavioral therapy, often referred to as “talk therapy”, that involves a therapist listening to a client talk and subsequently establishing a set of emotional and behavioral patterns from which to further work. Additionally, subconscious drivers are acknowledged here as much as those of conscious stature. Sigmund Freud established this field, and it is has continued to grow and strengthen in efficacy to modern times.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy typically involves a therapist working with a client to manage some specific and problematic behavior, habit, or emotion which continues to take place. An example of this could be persistent nail-biting or even anger management. Overwhelming fears and phobias are also common examples. This particular therapy approach may work well on its own, or it may require the use of additional, compounding approaches in order to make an ultimate and lasting effect on the client and their need.

Group Therapy

As its name may suggest, group therapy is all about therapy facilitation in a group setting. The most common form of this approach to behavioral therapy is family or marriage therapy, in which two or more related individuals work together in the therapy session with the therapist. This is as opposed to each singularly working in therapy on their own. The advantages of this therapy approach include direct barrier acknowledgment, face-to-face communications, quicker relational influence due to therapy, and more.

Child Therapy

Child therapy occupies its very own unique niche of the behavioral sciences world. While the term “child therapy” does not pertain to a specific therapy process, it does encompass a wide array of such individual therapy tools. One such approach here is modeling – the use of practice, visualization, and role-play to gain a better grasp of handling certain life situations. Another approach within this umbrella is play therapy – the use of play to express and communicate. Per the American Counseling Association, play therapy itself, in fact, utilizes an important and interesting truth: “play is to the child what verbalization is to the adult”.

Addiction Therapy

Addiction therapy is yet another individual and important area of behavioral therapy today. It is this specific area of therapy that addresses the needs of drug and alcohol addicts in their efforts to get better and stay that way. Those working in this role may work in in-patient, out-patient, and even sometimes home-visiting capacities. The National Institute of Drug Abuse cites a number of unique approaches in treating addiction with behavioral therapy. Some of these include motivational therapy, intervention management approaches, community reinforcement models, family therapy, the twelve-step approach, and more.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Image for our FAQ What are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a therapy type focused on modifying problematic behaviors for improved social functioning. ABA therapists use positive or negative reinforcement to establish desired behavioral changes. Applied behavior analysis utilizes B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory to teach target behaviors through rewards or punishments. ABA therapists foster communication and daily living skills for client independence. ABA therapy is most commonly linked to autism spectrum disorders. The Autism Society reports that the developmental disability affects over 3.5 million U.S. residents. Applied behavior analysis also aids in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, hyperactivity disorder, and more. Most ABA therapists are credentialed as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs).

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a therapeutic approach that addresses cycles of negative emotions to nurture more positive behaviors. DBT therapists strive to build clients’ tolerance for enduring past painful feelings by staying mindfully present. Dialectical behavior therapy teaches clients how to regulate intense mood changes for a balanced life. Clients of DBT therapists often experience manic depressive episodes and suicidal thoughts. DBT also strengthens clients’ self-esteem and confidence by instilling assertive social skills for better relationships. DBT therapists hold individual or group sessions primarily for clients with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Dialectical behavior therapy shows promise with addiction, eating disorders, and clinical depression too. DBT therapists are certified by the Linehan Board.

Mentalization-Based Therapy

Mentalization-based therapy (MBT) is another of the types of behavioral therapies that connects emotional states to abnormal client behaviors. MBT therapists work with clients who have limited cognitive understanding of their feelings and thoughts. Clients of MBT therapists frequently suffer from emotional attachment issues. Mentalization-based therapy makes clients more aware of other people’s emotions too. MBT therapy aims to enhance emotional regulation to prevent impulsive, inappropriate behaviors that harm oneself or others. MBT therapists utilize transference to project clients’ feelings and facilitate better self-awareness. Mentalization-based therapy treats attachment disorders and personality disorders, including antisocial and narcissistic. MBT therapy also assists with bipolar disorder, substance abuse, and anorexia.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is one of the types of behavioral therapies designed to overcome clients’ fears and life stressors for a calmer demeanor. Exposure therapists develop a step-by-step plan to expose clients to anxiety-inducing stimuli in small increments. Exposure therapy teaches essential coping strategies and deep breathing techniques to settle intense fears. Clients in exposure therapy use relaxation and imagery exercises to gradually become desensitized to the once scary subject. Exposure therapists customize treatment to avoid exposing clients too quickly and traumatizing them. Exposure therapy is beneficial for phobias, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Exposure therapy could help curtail repetitive behaviors associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder and paranoia of schizophrenia too.

Music Therapy

Image for our FAQ What are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

Music therapy is an evidence-based behavioral and cognitive intervention that improves client well-being through soothing sounds. Music therapists strive to influence changes with maladaptive behaviors through therapeutic tunes. Clients in music therapy write, play, and sing music to express pent-up emotions that are affecting their behaviors. Music therapists teach valuable everyday skills through music lessons to facilitate improvements in every life aspect. Music therapy immerses clients in cathartic musical exercises to boost mood, release stress, and cope with pain. Music therapists utilize virtually any genre from classical to contemporary. Music therapy is effective for depression, anxiety, dementia, autism, and behavioral disorders. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has certified more than 8,000 therapists.

Computerized Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Computerized cognitive-behavioral therapy (iCBT) is among the newest types of behavioral therapies adapted for the 21st-century tech wave. iCBT therapists coach clients through therapeutic exercises from afar over an internet connection. Computerized CBT involves communicating electronically over any digital platform, such as Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. Research has found that guided online CBT sessions are as successful as in-person meetings. Self-conscious clients who hesitate about traditional psychotherapy may be more inclined to seek virtual treatment. Global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes even necessitate iCBT. Computerized cognitive-behavioral therapy is suitable for clients with mild to moderate disorder symptoms. Clients in iCBT programs generally suffer from depression, eating disorders, anxiety, insomnia, and mood disorders.

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) is a complementary intervention that pairs clients with non-human buddies for positive behavioral outcomes. AAT therapists typically add animals into the other types of behavioral therapies to foster faster progress. Animal-assisted therapy helps clients develop emotional bonds and develop self-control over impulsive behaviors. Clients in AAT learn to trust others, engage in open dialogue, and hone attention abilities. Animal-assisted therapy sessions could involve dogs, cats, horses, goats, and even guinea pigs. AAT clients learn self-regulation skills by caring for an animal with unconditional love to give. Therapeutic service animals must be certified through organizations like Assistance Dogs International. Animal-assisted therapy could help address addiction, autism, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, attention-deficit disorder, and others.


Hypnotherapy is an alternative medicine used to supplement other types of behavioral therapies for breaking bad habits. Hypnotherapists use relaxation techniques to bring clients to a trance-like state of being. Hypnosis is rooted in Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theories of a conscious and unconscious mind. Hypnotherapists aim to reach underlying thoughts and emotions in the unconscious to correct maladaptive behaviors. Hypnotherapy guides clients through prompts that reprogram their minds and modify their actions. Clients under hypnosis block out the real world and focus their attention inside on positive behavioral suggestions. Hypnotherapy helps people with phobias, addiction, binge eating disorder, insomnia, and sexual disorders. Practitioners usually have the Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist (CCH) credential.

Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational enhancement therapy (MET) is a therapeutic approach used for defiant clients who resist treatment for solving self-destructive behaviors. MET therapists strive to make challenging clients less ambivalent and more engaged in treatment. Motivational enhancement therapy breaks through defensive mechanisms and argumentative excuses to inspire clients to change. Clients in MET learn how their behaviors negatively impact themselves and others for better self-awareness. MET therapists have clients construct self-motivating statements, achievable goals, and self-imposed incentives. MET therapy keeps reinforcing clients’ progress and ability to reach desired outcomes. Motivational enhancement therapy was developed in the 1990s for alcoholism treatment. MET also helps address anxiety, gambling, compulsions, and other addictions.

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is another of the action-oriented types of behavioral therapies that remedies self-defeating thought patterns. REBT therapy aims to correct illogical, erroneous beliefs that contribute to clients’ behavioral disturbances. Rational emotive behavior therapy was launched in 1955 by Albert Ellis to remedy unhelpful personal tendencies. REBT therapists address issues like guilt, shame, avoidance, and anger that hurts clients’ self-esteem and social interactions with others. Clients in REBT learn to replace dysfunctional feelings with positive, rational ones for a happier and more fulfilling existence. REBT therapists also ensure clients have realistic goals and avoid worrying about life events outside their control. Rational emotive behavior therapy curtails distorted thinking in disorders from paranoia to depression.

Expressive Arts Therapy

Image for our FAQ What are the Different Types of Behavioral Therapy?

Expressive arts therapy is an applied therapeutic approach used to treat cognitive-behavioral problems through creative artwork projects. Art therapists meld psychology and counseling with fine arts to nurture emotional healing. Expressive arts therapy utilizes visual imagery as an outlet for sharing stories and feelings. Art therapists are skilled in diverse media, including sculpture, painting, dance, theatre, and ceramics. Clients may physically create artistic pieces or simply derive emotions from looking at or watching art. Expressive arts therapy is a multi-modal practice designed to illuminate pent-up emotions and foster possibilities for behavioral change. People of every age and artistic level who have virtually any disorder can participate. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) has registered over 5,000 masters-level practitioners.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is among the trauma-focused types of behavioral therapies to relieve distress. EMDR therapists have clients recall memories of psychological traumas in vivid visual details. EMDR therapy strives to heal deep mental wounds by changing how the brain processes painful life events. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy empowers trauma victims to cope with past horrors as strong survivors. Shifting the somatic response to distressing memories and invoking positive cognition is the goal. EMDR therapists transform targeted bad memories into preferred good thoughts. Clients with histories of abuse, sexual assault, combat, and tragic loss are strong EMDR candidates. EMDR therapists also treat personality disorders, insomnia, anxiety, addiction, and dissociative disorders.

Humanistic Therapy

Humanistic therapy is unique from other types of behavioral therapies by taking a whole-person, holistic approach to psychological disorders. Humanistic therapists avoid dwelling on clients’ negative, unhealthy behaviors. Instead, humanistic therapy resolves dysfunction with only positivity. Clients in humanistic therapy learn to view themselves as strong, smart, creative, and powerful individuals capable of handling life’s stressors. Humanistic therapists are merely coaches who guide clients to their own intuition and wisdom. Humanistic therapy follows the unrelenting belief that every person has innate human goodness. Humanistic therapists use Gestalt approaches to help clients accomplish set goals. Humanistic therapy benefits wide-ranging conditions from schizoid personality disorder to social anxiety disorder. Clients can also address family or relationship issues like divorce and chronic illness.

Anger Management Therapy

Anger management therapy is a mental health treatment for aggressive clients who externalize their feelings of rage in potentially harmful behaviors. Anger management therapists see clients with abnormally high levels of frustration and fury. Clients in anger management generally struggle with controlling their intense physical arousal to irritating stimuli. Anger management therapy aims to determine the root causes of argumentative and violent outbursts before harm is done. Anger management clients may be lashing out because of trauma, substance abuse, paranoid thinking, perceived failure, and more. Therapists create detailed plans for shifting angry, destructive behaviors to healthier responses to triggers. Anger management therapy may be voluntary or ordered by judges in criminal cases. Therapists can be certified by the National Anger Management Association (NAMA).

In conclusion, these therapy techniques help countless individuals suffering from any number of debilitating conditions, each and every day. As the science has grown and developed, so too has its applications. These are the basics of the many types of behavioral therapy today.

Related Resources: