What is Behavior Modification?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2019
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Behavior modification is a type of treatment which focuses on altering maladaptive behavior, to teach patients more adaptive behavior and to break bad habits. There are a number of applications for this treatment, and there are also a range of approaches to this type of treatment. It is a good idea to consult with several experts before pursuing behavior modification to determine whether or not it is appropriate for a patient, and to learn about different approaches to see if there is one which may be more suitable for a patient than another. This type of therapy is offered by a variety of mental health professionals.

In behavior modification sessions, patients are essentially trained out of maladaptive behavior. It can take numerous sessions, and the approach is usually tailored to the patient. Approaches can be as simple as time outs for a child who acts up in class, or as complex as biofeedback systems which are designed to get patients to stop chewing their nails. Some types of modification uses punishments of various forms, which has attracted criticism, as some people feel that punishment is not effective and can even be harmful.


Phobias, anxiety disorders, and bad habits can all be treated with this type of therapy. For example, a patient who is afraid of water might undergo systematic desensitization to remove the fear. Bad habits which can be treated with behavior modification can include nail biting, hair chewing, finger sucking, and a variety of other issues. This therapy can also be used to treat issues such as bedwetting or acting out.

Patients with developmental disabilities can sometimes benefit from sessions which teacher adaptive behavior so that they will feel more comfortable in society. Behavior modification is also used to treat conditions such as autism, providing patients with skills which will increase their level of functionality in society. Ongoing modification therapy can be used in both children and adults.

While the term “behavior modification” may sound a bit ominous, sessions are usually gentle. The practitioner does not want to create additional behavioral issues by approaching the patient aggressively or choosing a method of approach which is inappropriate to the patient. While some tactics in former eras may have been harsh or abusive, most practitioners today recognize that these methods of treatment are not effective and can be actively harmful, preferring the carrot to the stick when it comes to helping their patients.


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Post 5

Is using behavior modification in society a good idea to shape the behavior of others?

Post 4

Mutsy - I agree and the key with behavioral modification is that there has to be a level of accountability.

For example, people are three times more likely to be successful if they go to a Weight Watchers meeting than if they follow the Weight Watcher plan online.

The reason is that when a member goes to a meeting they will be weighed in and thus be accountable for following the plan.

At home, you are only accountable to yourself so many people have difficulty because they need someone to check up on them to make sure that they are actually following the plan.

It is just like you would not tell a child what they need

to change and never follow up to make sure that they have adjusted their behavior.

I think that behavior modification techniques work well with children if there is some positive reinforcement when the child succeeds in the positive behavior.

After all adults are rewarded when they lose weight, so children need some kind of reward as well.

Post 3

Latte31 - I wanted to add that behavior modification programs also work well with weight loss.

Usually when people seek to lose weight their entire behavior and approach towards food has to change in order to see positive results of the weight loss program.

Most people run into problems regarding portion control and mindless eating. Programs like Weight Watchers are excellent programs to get people to understand and change their behavior in the long run.

The Weight Watchers program is not a diet but a program that creates a permanent lifestyle change of its members.

During the weekly meetings members learn how to manage their portions and how to eat delicious food that are lower in calories

by modifying the ingredients.

The program also tells its members that they can eat all types of food but just have to account for the points that each food has. The program allows members to eat in all types of settings and puts them in control of their eating habits.

Many members exercise or take on a new hobby instead of eating when they are not hungry.

They say that people with a weight problem eat for entertainment or to fill a void. Weight Watchers forces them to find other ways to entertain themselves or fill the void in their lives so that they do not resort to food.

This is one of the best behavior modification programs out there because losing weight has to be a lifestyle choice that requires changes that you will maintain for the rest of your life.

Post 2

Stolaf23- I have never seen that show. I’ll have to watch it.

I wanted to say that behavior modification techniques are most closely associated with CBT therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.

In child behavior modification the therapist will perform a series of role playing exercises with the patient in order to help them understand how to perform in a more acceptable manner in the future.

They also use journaling so that the child can write down his emotions and make the connection of how these emotions reflect in their behavior.

These behavior modification programs really help children that are socially inept or that may have difficulty making friends.

Sometimes children that suffer from ADHD also

have social impairments that do not allow them to read the cues of others and therefore end up rejected by their peer group.

They are also very impulsive which causes a problem when a teacher is trying to give her lecture. These behaviors can be altered over time so that the child slowly begins to be in control of his or her behavior.

Post 1

One of the best things I ever saw on television about behavior modification was a Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon, the obsessive compulsive physicist, tries to alter the habits of Penny, the occasionally vapid blonde, by giving her a chocolate every time she responds in a way that he likes. The sad part is that it worked, and it really can work on people in the real world as well.

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