Behavioral therapy, or behavioral modification, is a psychological technique based on the premise that specific, observable, maladaptive, badly adjusted, or self-destructing behaviors can be modified by learning new, more appropriate behaviors to replace them.
Reward and punishment systems have been used throughout recorded history in an attempt to influence behavior, from child rearing to the criminal justice system. Modern behavioral therapy began in the 1950s with the work of B.F. Skinner and Joseph Wolpe. Wolpe treated his patients who suffered from phobias with a technique he developed called systematic desensitization. Systematic desensitization involved gradually exposing a patient to an anxiety-provoking stimuli until the anxiety response was extinguished, or eliminated.
Skinner introduced a behavioral technique he called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is based on the idea that an individual will choose his behavior based on past experiences of consequences of that behavior. If a behavior was associated with positive reinforcements or rewards in the past, the individual will choose it over behavior associated with punishments.
By the 1970s, behavior therapy enjoyed widespread popularity as a treatment approach. Over the past two decades, the attention of behavioral therapists has focused increasingly on their clients' cognitive processes, and many therapists have begun to use cognitive behavior therapy to change clients' unhealthy behavior by replacing negative or self-defeating thought patterns with more positive ones.
Paula Ford-Martin, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,