Behavior Therapy: Types, Effectiveness, and How It Can Help Your ADHD or Anxiety

Behavior therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic approach for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adolescents. It focuses on developing and strengthening skills and strategies to manage behavioral ADHD symptoms and improve function at school and home. At the same time, parents and caregivers learn strategies to provide consistent support, implement behavior management techniques, and reinforce positive behaviors at home.

What Are the Types of Behavior Therapy?

Behavior therapy encompasses several different approaches that use similar systematic techniques to address the symptoms of ADHD and other mental health and behavioral conditions. Each type has specific applications, but they share the goal of promoting positive behavioral change and improving mental health and functioning. The choice of therapy depends on the individual’s diagnosis and specific needs. These are the most common types of behavior therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to help individuals identify and modify negative thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to problematic behaviors. It’s effective in treating a wide range of psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression, as well as ADHD.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Developed for individuals with borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, combines behavioral strategies with mindfulness and emotional regulation techniques to improve emotional control and interpersonal skills.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a therapy that’s often used with children with autism and developmental disorders. It focuses on breaking down complex behaviors into smaller components, systematically teaching and reinforcing desired behaviors while reducing unwanted ones.

Social Skills Training

This therapy aims to improve an individual’s interpersonal and communication skills and is often used for individuals with social anxiety or autism spectrum disorders.


This technique teaches practical skills to assist with common ADHD-related challenges such as solving problems, getting organized, setting goals, managing time, and planning.

Systematic Desensitization and Exposure Therapy

These treatments are commonly used for specific phobias. Individuals receive gradual exposure to feared objects or situations to reduce their fear response.

Positive Reinforcement

This technique uses rewards, praise, or tokens to motivate children to exhibit desired behaviors. For example, a child may receive rewards for completing homework, following instructions, or staying on task.

What Can Behavior Therapy Help With?

Behavior therapy can effectively treat a wide range of psychological and behavioral conditions, and mental health providers may recommend its use for various diagnoses.


Behavior therapy, including parent training and classroom behavior management, is a crucial component of ADHD treatment. It aims to provide individuals and their families with practical strategies for managing symptoms. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends this approach for children of all ages who have ADHD, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics guideline to use behavior therapy as the primary treatment up to age 6. School-age children often benefit from a combination of therapy and prescription medication to treat ADHD symptoms.

Anxiety Disorders

Behavior therapy, particularly CBT, is highly effective in treating generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias. It helps individuals identify and modify irrational thought patterns and teaches coping strategies to manage anxiety.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

ABA is a cornerstone in the treatment of autism. It focuses on developing critical skills, reducing problem behaviors, and improving communication and social abilities.

Other Mental Health Conditions

CBT is frequently used to treat depression. The therapist focuses on changing negative thought patterns, increasing engagement in positive activities, and enhancing mood. CBT can help individuals cope with and recover from traumatic experiences. It’s also used to address conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder by targeting maladaptive behaviors and thought patterns.

How Effective Is Behavior Therapy?

According to research published in the journal Psychiatry Research in 2019, behavior therapy effectively addresses many ADHD symptoms. Specifically, CBT can help control behaviors associated with ADHD while supporting healthy social interactions. It can also treat depression and anxiety that occur in conjunction with ADHD. Many participants who received CBT continued to experience symptom relief up to two years after the conclusion of the study.

A study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry supported the efficacy of CBT for adolescents with ADHD who have not responded to medication. The Journal of Attention Disorders found similar positive outcomes among college students struggling with ADHD symptoms.

In addition to its effectiveness for ADHD, a 2012 meta-analysis published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research reported that behavior therapy can effectively treat:

  • Substance use disorder.
  • Depression.
  • Disorders involving somatic symptoms.
  • Bulimia.
  • Stress-related disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders.

For best results, the therapist works with the child and their caregivers to set specific, measurable, and achievable goals for behavior. Working toward these goals can provide a sense of accomplishment and progress, boosting the child’s self-esteem.

How Can Behavior Therapy Help Children With ADHD?

Behavior therapy can teach children with ADHD ways to manage their symptoms, improve their behavior, and function better in various settings. Some of the demonstrated benefits of this approach include:

  • Control of impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity.
  • Improved ability to complete tasks.
  • Better management of daily activities.
  • Better time management.
  • Longer focus periods.
  • Improved ability to stick to a routine.
  • Establishment of predictability and stability.
  • Enhanced social skills, such as taking turns, sharing, and listening actively to others.
  • Improved problem-solving skills.
  • Lower levels of anger and frustration.

Behavior therapists often work closely with teachers and school personnel to create a consistent approach to managing ADHD symptoms in the classroom. This may involve implementing classroom behavior management strategies. Regular tracking of the child’s progress and providing feedback to both the child and caregivers help adjust strategies as needed and ensure ongoing improvement.

How Can I Connect My Child With a Behavioral Therapist for ADHD?

Behavior therapy is frequently considered a first-line therapy and included in a comprehensive treatment plan for ADHD. This approach empowers children and their caregivers with practical tools and strategies to manage symptoms and lead more successful and fulfilling lives. If your child struggles to exhibit appropriate behavior in school or at home, connect with NeuroHealth Arlington Heights to schedule a pediatric neuropsychological assessment. Our experienced therapists based at our practice in Arlington Heights, Illinois, will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine whether behavior therapy could help your child.

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NeuroHealth AH

With more than 25 years of experience diagnosing and treating mental health difficulties, NeuroHealth AH is your trusted expert in neuropsychology. We have a long-standing reputation for providing comprehensive and solution-oriented mental health services in the Chicago area.