The Benefits of Behavioral Therapy for Teens



Behavioral therapy is a type of therapy often used with teens and adults who need help changing potentially self-destructive behaviors. Self-destructive behaviors can be symptoms of addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, or depression. This form of therapy can also be used with phobias, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.


Essentially, behavioral therapy works to change behavior by also exploring a teen’s thoughts and feelings. One main principle of behavioral therapy is that thoughts, feelings, and behavior are all related to one another. By identifying and changing the thoughts and beliefs a teen has, sooner or later, their feelings and behaviors will also change. Here is an explanation of the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior:


Thoughts: The thinking that goes on inside is the cognition domain and refers to all that happens inwardly, such as thoughts, images, memories, dreams, beliefs, attitudes, and where attention goes. All of these can contribute to negative thinking.


Feelings: This includes emotional and physical feelings and how a teen might understand and cope with them. Emotions can cause symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue, and eating changes.


Behavior: This domain includes the way in which thoughts and feelings might make a situation worse, such as avoiding certain activities that would help to improve mood. It might also include the behavior that only leads to worsening mood, feelings, and thoughts, such as ruminating or berating oneself.


When a teen participates in behavioral therapy for any of the mental illnesses mentioned above, they may slowly learn to change their negative thinking to thoughts and feelings that are positive and life-affirming. When this takes place, a teen may experience the following benefits:


  • reduced experiences of self-harm, such as cutting, use of drugs, or risky behavior
  • improved social skills
  • better functioning in unfamiliar situations
  • higher degree of resilience
  • improved and healthy emotional expression
  • less emotional outbursts or acting out
  • ability to recognize the need for seeking help (versus turning to self harm or substance use)
  • better pain management
  • greater self confidence



There are many forms of behavioral therapy that address various illnesses. Although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most commonly used and known within the mental health field, here are additional types of behavioral therapy:


Adolescent Community Reinforcement Approach (A-CRA)A-CRA is a comprehensive approach to adolescent substance abuse. It involves the teen as well as his or her family and aims to support the adolescent’s recovery by increasing family, social, and educational positive reinforcers.


Multisystemic Therapy (MST)This form of therapy focuses on the antisocial behavior in teens who use alcohol and drugs. MST explores all facets of an adolescent’s life that contributes to the drug addiction, including the character traits of a teen, family dynamics, the attitudes towards drugs that a teen’s peers might have, and the environments at home, school, and in the neighborhood.


Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – This form of behavioral therapy that teaches adolescents the skills they need to move closer to their life goals and assists them in integrating those skills into everyday life. The therapy is a compassionate form of treatment method that brings meaning and purpose into a teen’s life. It can include group therapy, skills groups, mindfulness, and individual therapy.


One of the above types of behavioral therapy may be used with your teen depending upon their symptoms of mental illness. If you have concerns about your teen’s psychological well being, contact a mental health provider today.