Impulse Control Disorders Treatment Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a form of therapy designed to replace unhealthy behavior with healthy behavior, and it can be useful for patients with impulse control disorder.

Behavior therapy addresses the most visible aspect of impulse control disorder: irresistible behavior that causes an individual harm. Impulse control disorder can manifest in many forms, including:

  • Compulsive gambling
  • Kleptomania
  • Hair pulling
  • Pyromania
  • Skin picking.

Using behavior therapy for impulse control gives patients structure in the form of a step-by-step approach for dealing with their impulse control disorder.

The Steps Involved in Behavior Therapy for Impulse Control

Every therapist has a strategy for treating impulse control disorder, but these are some of the steps therapists typically follow when using behavior therapy for impulse control:

  1. Self-Monitoring: Patients submit detailed information on their daily activities, often by keeping a log.
  2. Schedule Revision: Therapists work with their patients to add new activities that provide opportunities for positive experiences.
  3. Preparation: Patients learn new skills and figure out how to handle the difficult situations they face. This approach can be particularly helpful for patients with impulse control disorder.
  4. Behavior Modification: When therapists use behavior therapy for impulse control, they collaborate with patients to find ways to reward positive behaviors. Patients learn to reward themselves for attaining specific behavioral goals.

Specific Techniques Used in Behavior Therapy for Impulse Control

Some of the ways that therapists address impulse control disorder with behavioral therapy include:

  • Conditioning: In this “gold star” technique, therapists consistently reward behavior they want to encourage.
  • Contracts: Patients make contracts with therapists regarding the behaviors they want to emphasize or eliminate. Contracts specify the rewards to be earned or withheld for reaching or failing to reach particular goals.
  • Homework: Sometimes patients with impulse control disorder are encouraged to use what they’ve learned in therapy to practice new responses in the real world.
  • Modeling: The patient consciously tries to learn new behavior through observation.
  • Progressive relaxation: This technique consists of tensing and then releasing all the body’s muscles. Therapists teach patients this technique to relieve the stress often associated with impulse control disorder and to prepare patients for desensitization therapy.
  • Rehearsing: Role-playing is sometimes used in therapy to help patients learn and practice healthier behaviors.
  • Systematic desensitization: Like gradually stepping into cold water, therapists use a step-by-step process to expose their patients to what troubles them. These sessions can take place either in therapy or in real-life situations.


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