Behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis

Mental health issues are different than any other health issues. This is primarily due to the fact that every mental health issue is fully unique to the person suffering from it. That being said, there are somewhat “standardized” approaches to dealing with these issues, most notably behavior therapy and psychoanalysis. To make the most out of even the best online therapy services, you first need to know what approach is best suited to your particular ailment. And to do that, you need to understand what behavior therapy and psychoanalysis are, how they help their patients, and who “wins” in the battle of behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis. Luckily, you can find all of that information right here, in this article.


two people arguing about behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis
Behavior therapy and psychoanalysis have different approaches when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

To put it simply, behavior therapy and psychoanalysis focus on different aspects. Behavior therapy is an action-oriented approach where the patients learn to identify, control, and change their behavior patterns, whereas psychoanalysis analyzes the patient’s thoughts and tries to figure out unresolved issues. There are various modalities of both approaches, such as interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), psychodynamic therapy, emotion-focused therapy, etc. But the base approach always stays the same, regardless of the modality.

Before we can understand who comes ahead in the behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis “battle”, we also need to understand each approach in full.

What is behavior therapy?

To start with, let’s examine what behavior therapy is and how it aims to help its patients. Behavior therapy focuses on patients’ actions and how they interact with the world around them. The underlying principle of the therapy is that all behaviors are learned and that they can be changed. Even if they become habits. Therefore, behavior therapy is one of the best solutions when it comes to treating any habitual issues, such as smoking, eating disorders, and substance use. It is also one of the best online anxiety therapy options out there and can be utilized to great effect in treating numerous other issues such as depression, personality disorders, bipolar disorders, OCD, and the like.

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Due to its approach, behavior therapy is also used to enhance already existing positive behaviors. For example, people can utilize behavior therapy to enhance their organizational skills and their involvement in sports activities. Therefore, therapists practicing this approach help their patients change their behaviors in a concrete way. Behavior therapy focuses on changing the present rather than investigating the past.

There are numerous modalities of this treatment type. Some of the most common are:

  • Flooding therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioral therapy
  • Aversion therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy

Flooding therapy

This modality exposes the patient to the object of their fears but in a safe environment. Not only expose, but flood them with their fears. An example of this is a simple fear of, let’s say, dogs. The therapist will bring several well-behaved dogs to the office and let the patient stay among them for an hour or so. While this may sound cruel, there are solid underlying principles behind the therapy.

person holding a snake
Flooding therapy exposes patients to their fears in a controlled environment.

The main principle is that the initial fear response wanes as time passes. Once the patient realizes that no harm will come to them, the fear disappears. The therapist will also be present in the room, helping the patient deal with panic attacks if they happen to occur. This approach is particularly suited for treating people with phobias, but it can be utilized for any mental health issue that has a particular fear associated with it. It may be one of the more difficult therapy types and, therefore, not for everyone, but it produces exceptional results.

Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT)

This is one of the most common therapy types. Cognitive-behavioral therapy explores a connection between the patient’s thought patterns and their behavior. It starts by identifying the negative thoughts and how they relate to the person’s actions. The long-term goal of the therapy is to change the patient’s way of thinking and create positive behavioral patterns. Throughout the therapy, the patients will learn to recognize exactly how their negative thoughts influence their behavior, as well as how to challenge the thoughts themselves before ultimately replacing them with healthy ones.

The beauty of this approach is that is not as reliant on live interaction, the way flooding therapy is. The best online CBT therapy programs are as efficient as the best face-to-face treatment. This makes CBT therapy one of the most “approachable” treatment modalities, as you can get the full effect of the therapy from the comfort of your own home. Not to mention that you may save quite a bit on travel costs, as well.

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Aversion therapy

person with a headache
Aversion therapy makes the patient connect unhealthy behavior with being sick.

This form of behavior therapy focuses on pairing undesirable behaviors with unpleasant stimuli. For example, if the patient has an alcohol abuse issue, the aversion therapy will have them drink Antabuse before drinking alcohol. By drinking Antabuse, the patient will become sick after drinking alcohol and will gradually form an aversion to it. The main principle here is to force the patient to connect feeling sick when partaking in a particular activity. Aversion therapy is best for helping patients deal with substance abuse or any similar unhealthy habit.

What is psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy that explores the patient’s unconscious thoughts, memories, feelings, and desires. The patient usually lies on a couch, with the therapist outside their field of vision. You may have seen the practice in a movie or a TV show (or you may have heard about theories of Sigmund Freud) where the person talks and the therapist listens. The patient will talk about just about anything and the therapist will take notes and ask pertinent questions. Most of the time, the patients will talk about their childhood experiences, fantasies, dreams, and the like.

The main goal of psychoanalysis is to provide a deeper understanding of the patient’s mind. This is accomplished by using several psychoanalysis techniques. Where behavior therapy changes approaches to cater to different patients, psychoanalysis changes techniques. Here are some of the most common techniques that psychoanalysts use:

  • Free association
  • Inkblot tests
  • Transference analysis
  • Dream Interpretation

One of the main tenets of psychoanalysis is that the person’s personality is heavily influenced by events that happen very early in our lives (ages 1-5). Another is that our unconscious mind is the “driving force” behind our behavior. Psychoanalysis also explores defense mechanisms and how they relate to unconscious thoughts.

Behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis – Differences

Both behavior therapy and psychoanalysis have the same end goal in mind – to improve the patient’s quality of life and reduce their symptoms. But they differ on several accounts.

First, there’s the fact that psychoanalysis takes much longer than behavior therapy. Furthermore, it is more frequent. Behavior therapy regardless of the approach is always briefer than psychoanalysis. Some modalities do not last more than a couple of sessions, even!

person looking at a wristwatch
Psychoanalysis takes much longer than behavior therapy.

Second, the two therapy types differ in how they approach the underlying issue. Behavior therapy focuses on the right here and now whereas psychoanalysis focuses on the past and how it influences the here and now. Even though these approaches may seem fundamentally different, the fact of the matter is that either one can work. It all depends on the patient and their unique issue.

Next, the approach to solving the patient’s issues cannot be more different between the two therapies. Psychoanalysis takes a more “passive” approach, letting the patient come to their own conclusions over time, allowing them to work through their issues on their own. Behavior therapy, on the other hand, focuses on quantifiable and measurable progress. Also, behavior therapy sessions often have specific goals and will also provide “homework” for the patient.

Behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis – conclusion

Both behavior therapy and psychoanalysis have ample evidence of their effectiveness. The main difference lies in the approach and the way they try to help their patients. If you are looking to improve your life in a short amount of time, behavior therapy might be the better option. But if you want to fully understand the root of the problem, you may be better with psychoanalysis. In other words, the best therapy for your situation will largely depend on your goals.

Behavior therapy vs. psychoanalysis comes down to whether you want to understand how your unconscious thoughts influence your life or whether you want to change how you react to them. Each therapy type has its own strengths and weaknesses but the effectiveness of the therapy is usually connected to how you “click” with the therapist, as well as how comfortable you are attending the therapy sessions. This is one of the primary reasons why online therapy is gaining more and more popularity. The online aspect allows the patients to choose among many more therapists than they might be able otherwise.

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If you want to find the best therapists in an easy way or find out more about different treatment modalities, Consumer Opinion Guide is there for you! Our knowledge database holds all the answers!

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