How Applied Behavior Analysis Can Help Those Struggling With a Mental Illness

If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental illness, the good news about living in the modern era is that the resources and understanding that our culture has developed in regards to mental health have never been better nor more readily available than now. We’ve come a long way from even just a century ago when soldiers in the trenches of World War I were still being labeled as “cowards” by their own commanding officers simply because they had very real cases of PTSD and shell shock.

Since then, the world of mental health has grown by leaps and bounds as we’ve come to understand not just the challenges going on in the minds and thoughts of our war-torn veterans, but also those of our developing children, our teenagers, our parents, and even ourselves.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis?

One of the most helpful instruments in the modern mental health tool kit is the growing field of applied behavior analysis. ABA is a science-driven, therapy-based approach to understanding behavior, it’s motivations, and how it’s affected by the environment that surrounds a person, as well as how that person can learn and grow.

It is by no means a brand new field of study, as therapists have been busily applying it since the 1960s. However, ABA is, at its core, a science, and as such it is constantly evolving, growing, and developing new branches of thought. Therefore, it can be beneficial for anyone with mental health concerns in their family to keep up to date on the latest research and observe how therapists are using ABA not just in theory, but via real-world applications as well.

Recent Research

The list of those who can benefit from changes in the ABA field is much greater than just the professionals who use them on a daily basis. Therapists, counselors, clinicians, and family nurse practitioners obviously stand to benefit from cutting-edge research and recent developments in the field. However, teachers can also find a great deal of benefit from keeping up to date. This allows them to address behavior within their classrooms in a meaningful way that is advantageous to both their students and themselves. Parents are also clear candidates who can find value in ABA research as they address their family’s needs within the privacy of their own homes.

Setting the Bar

Modern research into both ABA as well as a variety of other behavioral and cognitive therapies has helped to solidify their importance within the mental health scene. Applications of these therapies have continued to yield positive results. Three out of every four patients who enter cognitive behavior therapy, for example, find at least some level of benefit from their experience, which is saying a lot for a field where quantifiably success can be rather difficult to measure.

While the research is still taking place, and no scientifically based therapy is without its flaws, it’s fairly safe to argue that behavioral therapies and cognitive behavioral therapy, in particular, are the current gold standard, creating superior, meaningful results for those struggling with mental health on a consistent basis.

ABA Uses

From training coordinators to college professors, clinical supervisors, and more, there are many different ways for certified ABA specialists to impact the world. Some of the greatest impacts that this approach to therapy has created can be found in the lives of our families.

For example, it can be helpful to observe how behavioral therapies like ABA can run the gamut, finding applications and delivering tangible solutions to all ages and walks of life.

We’re more aware than ever these days that many of our children struggle with mental health-related issues from very young ages. ABA has been helping to diagnose and treat these issues with an eye on solutions rather than just understanding the problems. This will help our children learn to gain a sense of control over their thoughts and to grow through their experiences.

ABA can also have a tremendous impact on the lives of our teenagers who commonly struggle with a whole host of issues, including things like ADHD, anxiety, and depression. Observing and addressing behavioral and cognitive issues can help them at a critical point in their development as human beings. Not only are their bodies physically growing and changing at breakneck speeds, but their mental development is often in quite a fragile state as they enter their final stages of growth.

But the productiveness of ABA doesn’t even stop there. It continues to yield very meaningful results right into adulthood, helping address both mental and physical addictions. This kind of combo in particular — known as co-occurring disorders — can be a nasty, self-defeating cycle.

However, ABA can be an excellent way to address even the most deep-set behaviors. This doesn’t stop at co-occurring disorders and addiction, either. It can even help with more subtle yet utterly destructive mental thought processes — such as that age-old demon: stress — helping us gain a deeper understanding of how to address our stress-inducing thought patterns.

This purposeful observation of our behavior with an eye towards affecting results can help us learn a great deal about our motivations and help nip these issues in the bud.

The Power of ABA

While it’s easy to blame behavioral issues like those associated with autism on the wrong things — say, vaccines for example — it’s helpful to adjust our focus from shifting the responsibility of the issue at hand to exploring how we can address the concerns themselves.

Applied behavior analysis is one of those solutions, with a proven track record that can genuinely help a variety of different mental disorders. However, it can’t be thrown at a problem as a general panacea. If anyone tells you it’s a magic cure-all, they’re selling you snake oil. Rather, make sure to seek out licensed professionals who understand both the power and the limitations of ABA so that you can find the best way to use it for the betterment of the lives of yourselves and your loved ones.

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Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and wilderness enthusiast. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around the mountains on her ATV.

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