How Is Behavior Therapy Different Than Psychoanalysis (2024)

If you’re looking for therapy, it’s good to keep in mind, different approaches to therapy resonate with different people.

How Is Behavior Therapy Different Than Psychoanalysis
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However, it can seem difficult to know the differences, in order to pick the right mental health treatment for you. Two contrasting approaches are psychoanalysis and behavior therapy.

How is behavior therapy different than psychoanalysis? Keep reading to learn more.

1. Belief System

Behavior Therapy maintains that harmful and unwanted or negative behaviors are learned. So then, it’s possible for new learning to bring behavioral modification.

Behavioral Therapy focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors and eliminating negative ones. A person’s past experiences are not the focus in behavior therapy. 

Psychoanalysis believes repressed emotions in the unconscious mind is responsible for the mental health issues people face. Thus, for effective, long-term changes to occur, psychoanalysis techniques delve into the unconscious mind to bring it to light.  

2. Time Frame

The time frame for behavior therapy and psychoanalysis differ greatly. Individuals being treated with psychoanalysis usually have two or more sessions a week. This can go on for several years. 

Mental health issues treated with behavior therapy is shorter in duration. In fact, some cognitive behavioral therapy treatments are completed in five sessions.

Note that the duration of both therapies also depend on how the patient responds and their determination. 

3. Approach

Behavior therapy techniques and the psychoanalysis approach to therapy differ greatly. Behavioral therapy is highly focused and action based, often with specific measurable goals set during therapy.

The therapist helps the client achieve behavioral change by reinforcing positive or preferred behaviors using different techniques like systematic desensitization.

In psychoanalysis, sessions are largely led by the patient. In fact, the analyst may speak very little in some sessions.

The patient’s train of thought is central with the goal of releasing pain or other psychological symptoms associated with thoughts, memories and feelings. 

4. Strategies And Techniques

Behavioral therapy techniques are based on principles of classical conditioning and operant conditioning. These include:

  • Classical conditioning
    • Systematic desensitization
    • Aversion therapy
    • Flooding
  • Operant conditioning
    • Contingency management
    • Token economies
    • Extinction
    • Behavior modeling

Psychoanalytic Therapy strategies include:

  • Free association
  • Dream interpretation
  • Inkblot test
  • Transference analysis

Related: 31 Best Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Books

How Is Behavioral Therapy Different From Psychoanalysis?

Both psychoanalysis and behavior therapy have demonstrated impressive effectiveness for mental health when treating psychological problems such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Addiction
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Here’s a look into how is behavior therapy different than psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis techniques take a close look into the free association of the unconscious mind.

What makes behavior therapy different is a more action-oriented approach to treating mental health issues, while psychoanalysis is more talk therapy..

One of the major differences is while behavior therapy focuses more on your conscious behavior, behavior you’re aware of, psychoanalysis involves the analysis of unconscious thoughts, thoughts you’re unaware of.

These are the main differences in therapy sessions while working through unresolved issues that may be affecting your mental health or causing mental health issues.

Another key difference is the length of time these therapies take. Psychoanalysis can take years — some people even see their psychotherapist for most of their lives.

The work is never truly finished because the subject matter (the patient’s unconscious mind – thoughts and feelings – and experiences) is constantly evolving.

Behavior therapy, on the other hand, is tightly focused on a particular context or mental health issue and uses techniques that show results relatively quickly.

A patient may engage in behavior therapy multiple times over a period of years, depending on what happens in their personal or professional life and on how much management their mental health requires.

However, each engagement will likely take place over a specified number of sessions.

Related: How Long Does Psychoanalysis Typically Take?

What Is The Difference Between Psychotherapy And Behavior Therapy?

Here is a closer look at how is behavior therapy different than psychoanalysis along with some background.

1. Behavior Therapy

Behavior therapy can be traced to the research of Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, which was published in the 1920s and 1930s. Pavlov’s work focused on classical conditioning, which is learning through association, or programming.

In a famous experiment, Pavlov classically conditioned dogs to salivate when he rang a bell because the dogs learned to associate the presence of food with the sound of the bell.

The various types of Behavior therapies are;

Behavior therapy is based on the belief that we’re influenced by and learn from our environment. Therefore, behavioral therapists help clients change unhealthy behaviors by focusing on observable actions, rather than on what is happening in the mind. 

Behavior therapy also focuses on concrete changes in the present rather than on insight into the past.

2. Psychotherapy

Psychoanalytic therapy is considered to be the first form of psychotherapy. In addition to Sigmund Freud, theorists including Anna Freud (the daughter of Sigmund Freud), Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson made lasting contributions to the field.

Erikson expanded on Freud’s theories by examining human development and stressing the need for growth throughout the life cycle.

Psychotherapy consists of methods grounded in the belief that people have repressed emotions, thoughts, feelings, memories, and desires that are unconscious, or not directly accessible.

The purpose of psychotherapy is to bring unconscious content to consciousness through a transformational healing experience.

The main principles of psychoanalysis are:

  • The unconscious mind largely determines human behavior.
  • Personality is influenced by early childhood events (between the ages of 1 to 5).
  • The unconscious is made conscious through release, which leads to the ability to deal with underlying issues.
  • Unconscious experiences can be made conscious by exploring dreams.
  • Psychoanalysis explores how people use defense mechanisms to protect themselves from the awareness of unconscious memories and desires.
  • Mental breakdown occurs when there is a conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Traditionally during psychoanalysis, the analyst asks the patient to lie on a couch while the analyst sits outside the patient’s field of vision. The client talks about their dreams, fantasies, and childhood experiences while the analyst takes notes.

Analysts use techniques such as free association and dream analysis to access traumas, some of which are believed to go back to childhood memories that have been repressed and are hidden to the patient’s conscious mind.

What Is The Difference Between PsychodynamicTherapy And Behavioral Therapy?

These two therapies can be confusing. Here are the subtle differences:

PsychodynamicTherapy And Behavioral Therapy
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1. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how a person’s past and unconscious thoughts can impact present day behaviors.

It can be confused with cognitive behavioral therapy, but it does not focus on behavior as much, but rather on emotions.

The foundations are found in psychoanalytic theory, and are related to Freudian ideas and the ego.

Advantages And Benefits

  • Psychoanalysis explores your own feelings so you’re better in touch with and understand them. Therefore, you can understand better why you act the way you do.
  • You gain more confidence and learn a better way to relate to other people and the world around you, thus, improving relationships.


  • A drawback of psychodynamic therapy is that it can make a patient feel worse initially, because psychoanalysis focuses on a patient’s past history and traumas. This however, is temporary.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is a short-term type of therapy with the focus on helping an individual cope with life challenges through examining their patterns of thinking and behavior.

The method of CBT focuses on ways to better cope and overcome habitual poor coping strategies and thought patterns. It’s a short-term therapy with limited numbers of sessions, ranging from 5 to 20 sessions.

Advantages And Benefits

  • CBT can be very helpful in aiding people to change maladaptive and pessimistic thinking. It also gives a person a way to deal with real world problems they may encounter.
  • CBT is a therapy often useful regardless of your age, and it can work well with or without medication.


  • The effectiveness of CBT depends on whether the patient is willing and eager to put forth the effort to change.
  • There are also often assignments or homework required outside of therapy, again meaning a person requires the determination for what it takes to change.
  • People with severe phobias or complicated mental diagnoses may not benefit as much with this type of therapy. It can make them initially stressed due to anxiety and worry.

Related: 12 Principles Of Cognitive Behavior Therapy

What Is The Difference Between Behaviour Therapy And Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?

Behaviour Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy are forms of psychotherapy, very similar in practice, with a few small differences.

1. Cognitive Therapy

Many people who suffer from depression, anxiety or behavioral problems have these issues from something that may have happened when they were growing up or at some other point in their lives.

Cognitive therapy focuses a lot on why the patient feels a certain way, then on getting the person to change his or her feelings.

Cognitive therapy challenges thoughts, which leads to better behavior and mood.

This treatment is based on the principles of learning theory, or programming, and applied behavior analysis used to treat recent, acute incidents as well as the disorders of everyday life.

Treatment always works best when you’re comfortable with your psychotherapist. Search out someone you admire and feel at ease with because therapy is such a personal experience.

CBT allows you to use sense and reason to guide how you react to problems rather than relying solely on feelings.

2. Behaviour Therapy

This type of psychotherapy uses behavioral approaches to change or alter negative or undesired behaviors for improved behavioral outcomes.

The therapist works with the client to identify the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors causing them problems and teaches them different ways to behave.

Behavior therapy builds on positive reinforcement and reward systems. It can be used to improve certain behaviors, such as communication, social skills, and academics.

It’s also used to help the patient develop learning skills like fine motor dexterity, domestic capabilities, grooming, hygiene and competence at work. Applied behavior therapy is used in various settings, including homes, work, schools and medical facilities.

The main focus of applied behavior therapy is to reward positive behavior while ignoring negative behavior until the patient eventually recognizes the benefits of positive behavior.

Behavior therapy is more evidence-based and focuses on the present.

CBT combines cognitive and behavioral therapies, helping you understand how your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are related.

This helps people recognize distorted thinking patterns, understand others better, and cope with difficult situations.

Related: Average Number Of Therapy Sessions – A Complete Guide

How Is Behavior Therapy Different From Humanistic Therapies?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies to address your thinking patterns and reduce your maladaptive coping mechanisms and defenses.

Humanistic Therapies
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Humanistic therapy aims to help you develop a stronger, and healthier sense of self. It helps you understand your feelings. ​​Humanistic therapy focuses on strengths and less on the treatment of symptoms.

As you go through humanistic therapy you gain a sense of the meaning of life. It works together with self-actualization, a level of psychological development that’s only achieved if all needs are fulfilled.

A blocking of self-actualization is seen by humanistic therapists as a source of psychological suffering.

Humanistic therapy ideas and practices were created by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Developed in the 1960s, Humanistic therapy was referred to as the third force of modern psychology and psychotherapeutic techniques.

Humanistic therapy represents an alternative to Psychoanalytic and Behavioral therapy. 

If you’re seeking fulfillment, you may find Humanistic therapy helpful and engaging.

People with anxiety disorders may find CBT helpful in controlling their anxieties and unhelpful defense mechanisms.

Related: Therapeutic Process & Therapeutic Steps – Easy Explained

How Long Does Traditional Psychoanalysis Vs. CBT Typically Take?

Progress can take a lot of time. For those engaged in therapy and even for those committed to it over the long term, this can feel profoundly frustrating and expensive. 

However, that’s all part of your therapy. Accepting that you’re worthy of the time and energy is part of your healing and learning to value how important it is to your wellbeing.

Here is one of the big reasons for how is behavior therapy different than psychoanalysis.

The problem isn’t ultimately that psychotherapy takes time, it’s that people approach the process looking for quick relief rather than understanding the length of time it takes to get benefit from therapy has everything to do with you, the patient.

Some people just don’t want to put in the effort, which can feel painful sometimes. They’ll choose medication to relieve depression or anxiety which works to cover up their symptoms, yet doesn’t solve anything long term.

Versus processing a chaotic childhood or unresolved traumas that may be the underpinnings of your symptoms or conditions in your life. This ultimately benefits you for the rest of your life because you’ll have the tools required to overcome your outer world.

Focusing on the speed to get better can actually prolong the process of psychological health.

Whatever type of therapy you choose will depend on various factors, but probably the most important one is your goal for your time in therapy.

Ask yourself a couple of questions to determine how is behavior therapy different than psychoanalysis and which is best for you.

Do you want to understand yourself better, to dig deep into your psyche and discover your unconscious desires and repressed memories or emotions? Then psychoanalysis is probably a good place to start.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for solutions, for actionable techniques that can help you change the way your emotions relate to the context of your outer world, behavior therapy is likely the right choice.

With so many therapies available, you can surely find the one that suits you best.

If you’ve enjoyed ✅ this article, please leave a comment. We invite you to share this with others so others may know there are plenty of opportunities to help them heal ✅ their mental health, grow and thrive.

Related: What Kind Of Therapy Do I Need – Types Easy Explained

About The Author

Bijan Kholghi is a certified life coach with the Milton Erickson Institute Heidelberg (Germany). He helps clients and couples reach breakthroughs in their lives by changing subconscious patterns. His solution-oriented approach is based on Systemic- and Hypnotherapy.