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Behavior Modification

Behavior Modification is an approach to therapy that is based on conditioning. The goal of behavior modification is to, well, change behavior. Behavior Modification techniques can be used with both children and adults and often is used in conjunction with other treatments such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (adults) and Play Therapy (children).

Behavior modification usually seeks to extinguish, or stop, an unwanted behavior and replace that behavior with a desired behavior. Using the principles of reinforcement, therapists assist clients and parents in constructing ways to reinforce desired behaviors while constructing ways to extinguish unwanted behaviors.

One behavior modification technique that is widely used is positive reinforcement, which encourages certain behaviors through a system of rewards. In behavior therapy, it is common for the therapist to draw up a contract with the client establishing the terms of the reward system.

In behavior modification, extinction eliminates the incentive for unwanted behavior by taking away the reward for that behavior. An example of this is using time-out, in which a child is separated from the group when he or she misbehaves. This technique removes the expected reward of parental attention.

Another behavior modification technique is negative reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is a method of training that uses a negative reinforcer. A negative reinforcer is an event or behavior whose reinforcing properties are associated with its removal. A common example of this is being on time for work or making sure work is done correctly to avoid disciplinary action from a supervisor. In this case, disciplinary action is the negative reinforcer and, of course, getting to work on time or doing work assignments correctly is the desired behavior.

In addition to rewarding desirable behavior, behavior modification also can discourage unwanted behavior through punishment. Punishment is the application of an aversive or unpleasant stimulus in reaction to a particular behavior. For children, this could be the removal of television privileges when they disobey their parents or teacher.

On the surface, Behavior Modification appears to be a very simple process. However, it often is difficult to determine what is reinforcing unwanted behaviors and what will reinforce desired behaviors. For this reason, it often is helpful for Behavior Modification to be added into other types of treatment such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Play Therapy.

Behavior Modification often is helpful for individuals who have compulsive behaviors, children with aggressive behaviors, and children with ADHD.

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