The behaviourist treatments are based on the idea that maladaptive (negative) behaviour can be unlearned. The four main treatments offered by the behaviourists are: systematic desensitisation, implosion therapy, aversion therapy and behaviour modification.

Systematic Desensitisation

This is based on the idea that we learn to fear things through classical conditioning which is when a stimulus is paired with the fear response. It is most commonly used to cure phobias.

  • Systematic desensitisation aims to uncondition the phobia in small graduated steps. To explain the therapy I will use the research of Little Peter, a boy who was scared of rabbits and other similar stimuli, by Jones as an example.
  • They broke the treatment down into 16 steps starting by showing Peter a picture of a rabbit progressing to a photo then eventually a real rabbit.
  • When Peter showed no fear towards the rabbit he was rewarded with food. By the end of the treatment he was no longer scared of rabbits and this was also generalised to other stimuli (such as cotton wool).
  • Strength- scientific research evidence (Little Peter) supports the therapy.
  • Strength- it is effective and has an application to the real world as it is a therapy that is used by clinical psychologists.

Implosion Therapy

This is also known as Flooding and is also used to cure phobias.

  • The client is exposed to the particular feared object without the ability to escape.
  • This causes them to have a panic attack but they cannot biologically maintain this state so the fear will eventually subside.
  • This means they will have re-learned the fear response so they are not phobic anymore.
  • Strength- fast and effective.
  • Weakness- client may have a heart attack.

Aversion Therapy

It is based on classical conditioning and was used as a deterrent for aggression in prisons.

  • It works by pairing undesirable behaviour, such as aggression, with an unpleasant consequence such as induced vommiting.
  • After repeating this several times the offender will vomit without any induction.
  • Weakness- it is now considered to be unethical so is no longer used.
  • Weakness- it only works in the short term. It has been found that eventually the unpleasant consequence wears off.

Behaviour Modification

Based on operant conditioning which is where desired behaviour is rewarded and undesirable behaviour is punished. It is often used with anorexic patients in the form of a token economy reward system.

  • For example, in institutions the patient may be set a target to gain 1kg each week and if they meet their target they are rewarded by being given a star. When they have a set number stars they may be allowed a visit out of the institution.
  • However, if they do not meet their target then they will be punished by being made to eat a high fat meal.
  • Therefore, this gives an incentive for desired behaviour and a deterrent for undesired behaviour.
  • Weakness- the therapy does not work on it’s own, it must be used in conjunction with other therapies.
  • Weakness- the patient may become dependent on the reward system and may not be able to think for themselves.