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A behavioral therapist is a licensed therapist who treats people with mental health disorders, helping them change their behaviors or their reactions to certain situations. Behavioral therapists treat patients with a range of conditions and in a variety of age groups, often beginning in childhood. Some of the conditions a behavioral therapist may treat include anxiety and mood disorders, phobias, and addictions. This type of therapist may also treat individuals who are depressed and those who’ve been dubbed problem children. He may have his own private practice, work as part of a team of practitioners, or work in a hospital or counseling center; some behavioral therapists even work in schools.
When treating patients, a behavioral therapist attempts to identify troubling patterns of behavior and reduce them using such therapeutic techniques as exposure therapy, contingency management, and modeling. Instead of focusing on unconscious thoughts and reactions, this type of therapy concentrates on making the patient aware of events and situations that produce unwanted reactions. It also helps him learn how to avoid those reactions.
One of the frequently used techniques in behavioral therapy is called exposure therapy. It involves exposing the patient to a normally troubling experience, thought, or memory while he is relaxed. This exposure is said to help the patient confront the things that cause him stress, learn to think about them more clearly, and develop ways to cope with the feelings they produce, eventually eliminating symptoms.
Modeling is another type of therapy a behavioral therapist may use to treat his patients. It involves having the patient watch another person as he models a desired type of behavior, such as introducing himself in a social situation. The idea is that the patient will see this behavior failed to produce negative consequences and eventually copy the behavior.
A behavioral therapist may also employ contingency management to help his patient. This generally involves rewarding and reinforcing behaviors that are acceptable and desired while ignoring those that are unacceptable or unwanted. In some cases, a therapist may create a penalty for the undesirable behavior. This tactic is said to be less effective, however, as it causes additional stress for the patient.
To become a behavioral therapist, a person usually needs a degree in a field such as psychology, psychiatry, or counseling. Most people who pursue this field do so by obtaining a master’s degree or Doctors of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree and securing the licensing required in their jurisdiction. A person with only a bachelor’s degree may find his career prospects more limited, but may secure an entry-level position. In many places, he would not be able to open a private practice with a four-year degree, however.