Behavioral Therapy vs. CBT

Understanding the Difference

What is Behavioral Therapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)?

Behavioral Therapy sees psychological disorders as a result of "maladaptive learning" or the learning of behaviors that are considered faulty to adaption. This type of therapy assumes that all behavior is a result of a person's environment and that it's symptoms are acquired through operant/classical conditioning. Operant conditioning involves learning by reinforcement while classical involves learning by association. Overall, the major goal in behavioral therapy is to unlearn less-than desirable behaviors.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is based off how a person feels and acts; CBT is practiced under the premise that thoughts determine a persons feelings and behavior. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aims to fix distorted thinking that results from unrealistic thoughts that cause distress. The goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is to help people develop new and healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Similarities and Differences

When it comes down to it Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be used to combine both behavioral and cognitive based therapies and approaches. However, behavioral therapy mostly utilizes operant and respondent therapies.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a broader approach while behavioral therapy does not focus on the cognitive aspect of the psyche at all.

An example of using only cognitive behavioral therapy is if a therapist gives their client a specific set of tasks as homework in an attempt to change their cognition around a certain set of beliefs or an event. One way that a therapist could give the client homework in order to change the way they perceive a situation is to, for example, have a client who is afraid of heights try taking the stairs rather than the elevator at work.

An example of using only behavioral therapy is the usage of a bed-wetting alarm by some parent of children who have trouble wetting the bed. The alarm conditions the child to know when they have to go to the bathroom at night. The alarm also reinforces the child not to participate in bed-wetting as not only is the sound as unpleasant as the feeling of being wet but having the child change their own bedding as well could be used as a form of reinforcement. This type of approach is also a perfect example of how operant (learning by association) and classical (reinforcement) can be combined in behavioral therapy.

When both types of therapy are combined the client can simultaneously unlearn troublesome behavior while learning new and healthier ways of thinking and behaving. By using both approaches the client is more likely to see positive results as an outcome and the best way to use both therapies is to combine them.

Which Therapy Could Be Used To Treat Procrastination?

Both types of therapy as a combination would be best used for the treatment of procrastination. Cognitive Behavioral therapy would be used redirect the procrastinators thinking toward more positive and goal-oriented behaviors that work for them and as a result their feelings toward doing their work (and the association they probably have with it and stress or failure would diminish). Behavioral therapy, which focuses on conditioning would help reinforce the behaviors by the usage of consequences. If the procrastinator doesn't do their work in time they're not able to do the things they enjoy or get the grade that they would like. Or if the person who usually procrastinates meets their goals they can treat themselves to ice cream or watching their favorite band perform in order to reinforce the feelings associated with meeting goals in a timely manner. Overall, the usage of cognitive behavioral therapy along with behavioral therapy is perhaps more effective than just using one or the other.


McLeod, S. (2008). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy | CBT | Simply Psychology. Retrieved from

McLeod, S. (2010). Behavioral Therapy | Simply Psychology. Retrieved from