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What Does a Behavioral Psychologist Do?

Behavioral psychologists study human behavior.
Individuals may seek the help of a behavioral psychologist in an effort to change certain behavior, such as a smoking habit.
A behavioral psychologist may help treat someone who has problems with overeating.
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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
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Behavioral psychology is the study of human behavior through experimental research. It relies on the principle that all human behavior is learned and can therefore be changed through various forms of conditioning. Psychologists who practice this discipline use their knowledge on how people learn new behaviors to help them improve psychological disorders.

Patients who want to change a certain behavior, such as smoking, may turn to a behavioral psychologist for help. This type of psychotherapy is also typically used for patients with anxiety disorders and phobias. The psychologist uses behavior therapy to teach patients to modify and control self-destructive behaviors. It may also be implemented in treating children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in order to teach them techniques for controlling distractions and outbursts.

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One of the main methods used by the psychologist is classical conditioning, which is based on the idea that environmental stimuli can help alter behavioral responses. For instance, a patient with a phobia has learned to associate a particular object with feeling frightened, even though the object is not inherently dangerous. To help a patient overcome his or her phobia, a psychologist will use classical conditioning and expose the patient to his or her phobia in a controlled environment. This method is intended to teach him or her to change the negative feelings he or she associates with that object. After being repeatedly exposed to the phobia object in a calm environment, the patient may then become desensitized to the phobia over time because it no longer is associated with fear.

A behavioral psychologist may also use operant conditioning, which is generally used to change undesired behaviors, such as overeating or smoking. Operant conditioning is based on the notion that behavior can be modified through punishments and rewards. During a session, a psychologist will guide a patient on how to implement a punishment when he or she smokes, as well as reward him or her for abstaining from cigarettes. Punishments and rewards depend on the patient, but can be as simple as losing some type of privilege as a deterrent or receiving praise as encouragement.

Some psychologists may concentrate on research and experimentation rather than providing psychotherapy to patients. They may study people with disorders, such as autism, and how effectively they respond to behavioral treatments. Psychologists may also perform research to discover what types of disorders are physical and cannot be treated with behavioral therapy.

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Discuss this Article

anon339813
Post 6

What does a psychologist from behavioral psychology identify as the primary source or motivator of human thought, feeling and behavioral?

anon211891
Post 5

I love behavioral psychology! I'm doing my senior project on this profession.

mutsy
Post 4

Latte31 - I know that a behavioral psychologist will also have his patient complete daily journal entries that include the state of mind that the patient was experiencing and the food that was subsequently eaten.

This helps the psychologist make the connection and let the patient see how their emotions are directly affecting their eating habits.

latte31
Post 3

Subway11 -I agree with you. However, what about if the behavior that the patient exudes is socially acceptable but harmful to the patient?

Some perfect examples include overspending and overeating. For a person that overeats the behavioral approach made famous by Pavlov’s dogs explains how some overweight people are conditioned to eat when they smell something cooking.

Their sense of smell becomes aroused and they suddenly have the urge to eat even though they are not hungry.

If a behavioral psychologist can pinpoint most of the psychological triggers that cause the patient to overeat they will be able to treat the patient successfully.

Here the use of cognitive behavioral therapy allows the patient to substitute incompatible behaviors with eating. For example, if the patient suddenly gets an urge to eat because they are feeling particularly anxious then the psychologist might suggest that the patient go for a walk outside or jump rope.

It would be really difficult to eat while jumping rope and the exercise eases the patients mind and the desire for food at the moment.

subway11
Post 2

Moldova -I just want to say that my friend’s son is seeing a behavioral psychologist and he is doing really well.

I think that focusing on the behavioral approach is important because many times people blame themselves and put themselves down for their behavioral issues.

Focusing on the behavior by seeking a counseling psychologist allows the person to see that their behavior is what is causing the rejection.

If the behavior is altered then the patient will see that the incidences of rejection will be significantly reduced.

This will cause the patient to see the negative behavior as undesirable.

Moldova
Post 1

I think that working as a cognitive behavioral psychologist allows you to see how your therapy is directly impacting the patient in a positive way.

For example, children afflicted with ADHD often need behavioral therapy in order to learn social cues that will allow them to have more satisfying friendships.

Children with ADHD have trouble making friends because their impulsivity turns off other kids and their inability to listen to the other children makes matters worse.

A cognitive behavioral psychologist will offer role playing and mental rehearsal techniques in order to change the child’s negative behavior into a more socially acceptable one.

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