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What can therapy for behavioral issues help with?

Behavioral issues can stem from any of a number of underlying problems. With young children, behavior issues may be a manifestation of anger or anxiety, neglect or abuse, neurodevelopment delays or disorders, learning disorders and other academic difficulties, perceptual problems, parenting expectations or style, family problems, or more. Among adolescents and adults, substance use, mood disorders, impulse control difficulties can manifest in disruptive behavior. Any mismatch between individual and environment may be a source of frustration that manifests as a recurring behavioral problem. Therapy begins with the taking of a personal and family history to identify the source of the difficulty and then a plan for addressing it directly, which may include referral to a specialist.

Who is qualified to treat behavioral issues?

An array of licensed professionals—psychiatrists, many types of psychotherapists, educational counselors, behavioral and developmental pediatricians—may play a role treating behavioral issues. Behavioral issues are among the most common mental health concerns with children, and most licensed therapists have both training and experience treating them. Nonetheless, it is helpful to find a therapist who has advanced training and experience in treating the specific problem with which a child presents.

How do therapists treat behavioral issues?

There are many types of therapy that can help people with behavioral issues, and the best approach depends on the nature of the underlying cause. Family therapy or parent management training focusing on parental effectiveness may be the most suitable approach to a child’s acting out, while CBT may help a child or teen manage aggressive or destructive behavior. When ADHD is suspected, referral to a pediatric neurologist or behavioral pediatrician for diagnosis and possible medication may be needed as well as behavioral therapy to help the child learn self-management skills. Play therapy may help young children learn how to regulate and express emotion. CBT helps individuals of all ages gain coping skills to manage many kinds of difficult situations.

What is the goal of therapy for behavioral issues?

Therapy for behavioral issues has several major goals. The most prominent is to eliminate self-defeating behaviors and replace them with individually and socially meaningful and rewarding behaviors. In many cases, therapy aims to help those with behavioral problems reduce conflict with those around them. At the same time, it changes people’s feelings about themselves, enabling them to see themselves positively, and improves their emotional responses to difficult situations. Therapy typically teaches people how to process negative emotions in constructive ways, so they have control over their own emotional reactivity.