Behavioral Approach to Counseling

    This is not to be confused with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

    This approach is used to treat anxieties, phobias, eating disorders, and sexual issues.

    Behavioral counselors believe all behavior is learned and that psychopathology is the result of faulty learning.

    Counseling is used to teach or help the client learn new behaviors. Having the client gain insight is not necessary.

    Punishment does decrease the likelihood that a behavior will be repeated but it’s not the most effective way, and the outcome does not last long. Here’s a better way:

    Positively reinforcing desirable behaviors is more successful than punishment. Think about your dog. When you rub his nose in it does it really stop the behavior. But think about giving him a treat and he will do anything you want!

    There are two powerful principals at play in this approach:

    Positive Reinforcement – a reward is given after a behavior

    Negative Reinforcement – is the removal of an undesirable consequence after a behavior is performed.

    So for example, if a parent wants her child to place dirty clothes in the hamper she may reward her child with a point each time child placess clothes in the hamper (positive reinforcement), and the parent may also reward the child by not nagging about placing the clothes in the hamper (this is negative reinforcement).

    Some examples of the behavioral approach:

    Exposure therapy for phobias

    Snapping a rubber band on your wrist every time you have a certain thought or urge

    Thought stopping (saying “Stop it!”) every time you catch yourself doing negative self-talk

    Social modeling

    Two examples I gave are when I go to yoga I see my friends. This reinforces a behavior that I might not love.

    Dan Ariely – who wrote the book Predictably Irrational

    *I am not giving any individual or personal advice.
    *Parts of this material taken from The Counselor’s Helpdesk by Phil Travers.


    Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.

    She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."