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Modeling Behavior Therapy

Goda Brzozauskaite
  • Apr 04, 2022
  • 4 min read
mirror image of young woman watching herself

Modeling behavior therapy (also called modeling psychology) is a type of therapy that is sometimes used together with cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT). Modeling therapy is a behavior therapy that centers around the premise of learning a particular desired behavior through observation and imitation, with little corroboration from a therapist.

Behavior modeling therapy forms a part of social learning theory and designates that we learn through doing, as well as watching what others do. In the context of therapy, behavior modeling is focused and encouraging and teaches seekers of this therapy improved ways of behaving.

Who Can Benefit From Behavior Therapy?

Children and adolescents

Modeling behavior therapy is beneficial to children and adolescents because they are able to react to a certain situation and see an instant reaction, a process that is extremely valuable in social contexts. This process extends to aiding children and adolescents with fitting in at school and within other social settings amongst their peers.

Children, in particular, benefit greatly from modeling psychology because they are masters of imitation and practical experience. Children learn how to walk and talk through modeling, and learning behaviors is no different.

Married couples

With the rising divorce rate in the US, couples therapy is being increasingly sought out. Most of the time, couples seeking counseling are in the position of wanting to mend their relationship. Couples in therapy can make use of behavior modeling by watching how other couples argue and how the argument is remedied.

Watching this situation unfold and then be resolved gives the couple undergoing behavior modeling strategies to navigate their own disagreements and provides a way forward for each interpersonal circumstance they may encounter.


Modeling therapy for phobias is another application for this type of intervention. Behavior modeling with phobias almost acts the same as desensitization by exposing the person with a specific phobia to the situation that they fear, but the resistance is experienced by another person (the model) rather than the patient.

Watching the model respond to their phobia, the patient has the ability to create a reference point and then has the opportunity to imitate that response. This gives them a coping “toolbox”, which they can then use to replicate this response when confronted with their fear in real-life.

First-time parents

Modeling behavior is extremely helpful in preparing first-time parents for parenthood and models actions such as calming a distressed baby, changing diapers, feeding the baby, and other interactions centered around the baby.

A newborn baby comes with stress and anxiety for most first-time parents, and modeling behavior therapy would undoubtedly help in preparing parents for all the stressors and different situations that could arise with the arrival of a new baby. Parents can simply recall the behavior modeling and react to the situation that they know will work, as they have seen it before.

People struggling with addiction

Modeling behavior therapy can be extremely beneficial to those struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs. Part of modeling behavior treatment for addicts is to observe other addicts traverse a circumstance where they may be offered drugs or alcohol in a social setting.

In the same token, addicts can observe how a person recovering from addiction uses their coping abilities to reject the temptation of being offered drugs or alcohol.

Addicts can also replicate the behavior displayed by recovering addicts when they are confronted with the thought of seeking out alcohol or drugs. For example, the behavior of turning to their sponsor can be modeled, and it can be determined whether it works for the person undergoing modeling behavior therapy.

Eating disorders

Behavior modeling works in a similar way for those who suffer from eating disorders. Again, models are able to show the target behavior when confronted with their triggers or are tempted to engage in behaviors such as binging and purging.

In this manner, sufferers of eating disorders can learn the behaviors they need to emulate when confronted with the debilitating effects attached to eating disorders.

What Are the Benefits of Behavior Therapy?

Behavior modeling therapy is widely applicable in an array of settings, and when used in isolation, is effective in the context of short-term learning. However, to obtain the long-term benefits of behavior modeling therapy, it should be used in conjunction with strategies such as role-playing and positive reinforcement in the form of rewards.

There are also various ways to raise the efficiency of behavior modeling therapy, both through the physical models of behavior, and the target behaviors, which we will cover below.

Things to Consider Before Starting Behavior Therapy

Models should be competent in acting out the target behavior (such as recovering addicts acting out behavior related to addiction). 

Models should also be amiable, of similar age and sex to the individuals they are presenting the behavior to facilitate familiarity and relatability.

Clients should also see that models are compensated for the behavior so that onlookers can observe the reward.

Target behaviors should be distinctly exhibited and should be shown in degrees of difficulty from easiest to most challenging. In addition, target behaviors should be acted out by various separate models.  

How to start behavior therapy?

To begin behavior modeling therapy, it is best to speak to your therapist first and foremost. A therapist would be able to ascertain whether behavior modeling therapy is the right treatment plan for you and your situation.

If your therapist determines that behavior modeling therapy is the right course of treatment for you, then they will either provide the therapy themselves or refer you to a therapist who specializes in that particular therapy.

You can also start your therapy journey online. Online therapy can be conducted through audio-visual methods, but it can also be facilitated via text messages to maximize comfort and offer you a daily connection.

The Bottom Line

Behavior modeling therapy is a type of therapy that can be extremely helpful in an array of situations and is applicable to various mental health issues that people face. It has been found to be helpful in children and adolescents, for first-time parents, couples therapy, people struggling with addiction, and in the treatment of phobias and eating disorders.

Behavior modeling therapy is applicable in numerous contexts. If you would like to know more about behavior modeling therapy or try these techniques in online counseling, we can connect you with a licensed therapist who can help. Online therapy can be more accessible and make you feel more comfortable than traditional therapy.

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