Effective Child Therapy
Created on August 5, 2017. Last updated on November 22nd, 2020 at 04:21 pm
What is Behavior Therapy?
Behavioral therapies for children and adolescents vary widely, but they all focus primarily on how some problematic thoughts or negative behaviors may unknowingly or unintentionally get “rewarded” within a young person’s environment. These rewards or reinforcements often contribute to an increase in the frequency of these undesirable thoughts and behaviors. Behavior therapies can be applied to a wide range of psychological symptoms among adolescents and children.
Although behavioral therapies can vary substantially from disorder to disorder, a common thread is that behavioral therapists encourage children and adolescents to try new behaviors, reward desired behaviors, and to allow unwanted behaviors to “extinguish” (that is, ignore unwanted behaviors).
For instance, imagine a teenager who has difficulty completing homework. To encourage desired behaviors (e.g., homework completion), the parents institute a reward plan that includes earning points each day that homework is completed that can be traded in for a desired reward at the end of the week (e.g.
, using the car to go to the movies with friends). The reward must be something the youth wants and it must be specifically tied to a specific goal (homework completion). At first the youth works for the external reward, but over time, the task itself becomes easier and the reward can be faded out.
Then, new goals can be generated.
In behavior therapy, parents and children learn to promote desirable behaviors and reduce unwanted behaviors.
One common trap that families fall into is unintentionally rewarding the wrong behavior. For example, take the teen who has not finished his homework, but really wants to take the car.
Despite initial objections, the teen persists, and becomes angry, irritable, and disobedient towards his parents. Following a tantrum, the parents decide they cannot take the hassle anymore and allow him to borrow the car.
In this way, the parents unintentionally reward, or reinforce, the teen’s oppositional behavior. The best way to handle these situations is to planfully ignore acting out behavior and to reinforce wanted behavior (homework attempts) as much as possible.
Behavioral therapists seek to understand such links between behaviors, rewards, and learning, and to help youth and parents shape their own behaviors to meet individual and family goals.
Types of Behavioral Therapies
Behavioral Classroom Management
Behavioral classroom management is a type of evidence-based therapy designed to support students’ positive behaviors in the classroom, while preventing negative behaviors, and increasing student academic engagement. In this type of therapy, the child’s teacher participates in delivering the treatment. Behavioral classroom management has received substantial empirical support as an effective therapy in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Behavioral Peer Interventions
Behavioral peer interventions involve one or more of a student’s peers providing assistance to the child with behavioral problems.
A teacher will train a child’s peers to reinforce the child’s positive behaviors and academic performance with social and academic support strategies.
This kind of therapy is often used in the school setting and has been shown to provide many benefits to academic, social, and interpersonal development.
Participation has also shown to be a positive influence for the peer assistant as well, because it reinforces a sense of responsibility and constructive behavioral changes. Behavioral peer interventions have been proven by science to be effective in treating ADHD.
There are a variety of peer-based behavioral interventions, including:
- Peer modeling
- Peer initiation training
- Classroom-wide tutoring
Behavioral Parent Training
Behavioral parent training was developed to teach parents how to reinforce desirable behaviors in their children, discourage unwanted behaviors, and improve parent-child interactions.
In this form of therapy, the parents play a significant role in treating their children’s behavior problems. During the therapy sessions, parents learn how to carefully observe their children’s behaviors at home and are taught skills to reward their children’s positive behaviors by using praise, positive attention, and rewards.
They are also taught to use rule-setting, time-out, and ignoring to discourage bad behaviors.
Behavioral parent therapy has received substantial empirical support to be effective in reducing behavior problems – especially for children with ADHD.
Combined Behavioral Management Interventions
Research has found that combining forms of behavioral classroom management, behavioral parent training, and/or behavioral peer interventions are well-established and effective for treating ADHD.
Modeling is a form of therapy in which a therapist demonstrates a non-fearful response to a negative situation in order to promote imitation in the child or adolescent. It has been proven to be effective in treating anxiety in children and adolescents.
Steven W. Evans, Julie Sarno Owens, & Nora Bunford (2013). Evidence-Based Psychosocial Treatments for Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology Vol. 43 Issue 4, 527-551. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2013.850700
Charmaine K. Higa-McMillan, Sarah E. Francis, Leslie Rith-Najarian, & Bruce F. Chopita (2016). Evidence Base Update: 50 Years of Research on Treatment for Child and Adolescent Anxiety, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 45:2, 91-113, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2015.1046177
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps patients understand how thoughts affect emotions and behaviors. CBT is used to treat conditions depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Procedure Details
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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a structured, goal-oriented type of psychotherapy (talk therapy).
Counselors use it to treat or manage mental health disorders and emotional concerns.
A therapist or psychologist helps you take a close look at your thoughts and emotions. You’ll come to understand how your thoughts affect your actions. Through CBT, you can unlearn negative thoughts and behaviors and learn to adopt healthier thinking patterns and habits.
CBT usually takes place over a limited number of sessions. Using a question-and-answer format, your therapist helps you gain a different perspective. As a result, you learn to respond better to stress, pain, and difficult situations.
CBT can be used alone or along with medication and other therapies. Your therapist will customize your treatment the issue you’re addressing.
How do I choose a therapist?
A therapist can be a medical doctor (a psychiatrist, who can prescribe medications), psychiatric nurse, psychologist, social worker, and marriage or family therapist. Talk to people you trust to give you a referral, whether it’s your personal care physician or a friend or family member. Or search online through local and state psychological associations.
Be sure that any therapist you’re looking at is a state certified and licensed mental health professional and that they treat your area of concern (for example, eating disorders, depression, marriage and family problems, anxiety, PTSD, etc.).
Most therapists’ websites list the conditions and problems they treat. If you have questions, call, text or email the therapists’ office before you choose.
What disorders and conditions does cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) treat?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a valuable tool for treating and managing a wide range of mental disorders and emotional challenges. People of all ages (including children) can receive CBT.
Therapists and psychologists use CBT to treat many disorders and conditions, including:
- Mental illness: Often, people who have various mental disorders respond well to CBT. It can help people with depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When combined with medication, CBT is also useful in treating bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
- Eating disorders: CBT can help people who have bulimia, anorexia, or binge eating disorders.
- Substance use disorders: People who have substance use disorders use CBT to adjust to sober living and support their recovery.
- Sleeping disorders: Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that CBT can help treat or manage.
- Chronic pain: CBT can teach people who have fibromyalgia or other chronic pain disorders to manage pain in a new way. A new perspective may help you change how you respond to physical discomfort.
- Everyday challenges: Cognitive behavioral therapy can benefit anyone who is struggling with life’s challenges. You might seek help for issues grief, divorce, problems at work or relationship troubles.
Cognitive behavioral therapy usually takes place over a limited number of sessions (typically five to 20).
Don’t expect results immediately; usually therapy takes time and sometimes involves uncomfortable work. Think of your therapist as a partner working with you through a process. If you keep working together toward the goals you’ve set, you’ll be able to mark your progress over time.
Here’s how it works. Your therapist will:
- Gain an understanding of the problem: At the start of therapy, you’ll discuss challenges you’re dealing with, symptoms you’ve noticed, and any concerns you have. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, tell your therapist. This important first step will help you set goals for your therapy.
- Ask a series of questions: Depending on your situation, your therapist may ask you questions. You might discuss an incident in your past, fears or phobias, troubling behaviors, or your thoughts and feelings. Together, you’ll explore your answers so you can gain insight into how you respond to challenges in your life.
- Help you recognize problematic thoughts and behaviors: Through interactive question-and-answer sessions, your therapist will encourage you to pay close attention to how you respond to tough situations. You’ll work together to identify unhealthy emotions, beliefs or behaviors that may be contributing to your troubles. Your therapist may ask you to keep a journal of these situations and your responses to them.
- Work with you to adjust your thoughts and behaviors: Your therapist will help you find ways to change negative emotions, thoughts and habits. You can change your perspective and adopt positive thought patterns and behaviors. Then you can apply those skills to future situations.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people become more aware of their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. After CBT, most people adopt healthier habits. CBT can’t make stressful situations disappear, but you can respond to them more positively and feel better overall.
Depending on your situation, you might feel slightly more upset during therapy. Your therapist can help you work through these feelings. You can use new skills to overcome negative emotions.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable during therapy because it can be painful to explore negative emotions, fears and past experiences. If your symptoms get worse or you experience increases anxiety or depression, contact your doctor right away. Get help immediately if you have thoughts of suicide or if you’re thinking about harming yourself or others.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/13/2020.