List of Behavioral Interventions: Top 13 Therapy Tools

This EPPP study guide will start with exploring some of the interventions based on Behaviorism.  Treatment approaches are generally based on 3 theories: Classical Conditioning, Operant Conditioning, and Social Learning Theory.  The information is best used in collaboration with your own knowledge and what you have already been taught, your previous notes or textbooks, and research if you need more information on a particular topic. Or you can check out the product reviews page.

If you are studying for the EPPP, 14% of the material you will be tested is under the topic “treatment, intervention, prevention, and supervision”.  This is broad topic with a lot of information, but it is the building blocks of what we do as psychologists.  If you are ever in a position of developing a treatment plan or a research platform, you will most likely find yourself coming back to these theories.  Because this is such a large topic, this post is only a list of behavioral interventions.  Again this post is just covering the interventions and treatment, the specific theories will be covered in another post, but most likely you already know the basics of behavioral theories.


You can easily research classical conditioning and find out a significant amount of information on it, for the sake of this post you will want to focus on the adaptation of these techniques for prevention and intervention.  A good review of the theory can be found here.

Ivan Pavlov is considered the father of this theory, and his research regarding salivating dogs should not be a new concept to you. But what you may have a bit Classical Conditioningmore difficulty recalling are all the details and different types of classical conditioning.  “Classical conditioning occurs when a conditioned stimulus is paired with an unconditioned stimulus. Usually, the conditioned stimulus (CS) is a neutral stimulus (e.g., the sound of a tuning fork), the unconditioned stimulus (US) is biologically potent (e.g., the taste of food) and the unconditioned response (UR) to the unconditioned stimulus is an unlearned reflex response (e.g., salivation). After pairing is repeated (some learning may occur after only one pairing), the organism exhibits a conditioned response (CR) to the conditioned stimulus when the conditioned stimulus is presented alone. The conditioned response is usually similar to the unconditioned response (see below), but unlike the unconditioned response, it must be acquired through experience and is relatively impermanent.”

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy is typically used when the goal is to diminish or eliminate a specific behavior, such as addiction. The Unconditioned stimulus is something uncomfortable, so the unconditioned response is often times pain.  An example of this is Antabuse (disulfiram), typically used to treat alcoholism the drug causes the individual to feel nauseous if they drink alcohol. When using aversion therapy typically the benefits are short term and not effective as a long term intervention.

Systematic Desensitization

Otherwise know as Graduated Exposure Therapy.  This type of therapy is very effective for anxiety disorders, specifically phobias.  There are 3 steps: 1) Identify  an anxiety inducing stimulus hierarchy, 2) Learn relaxation techniques, 3) Use the learned coping strategies to overcome the situations identified in the established anxiety hierarchy.


This is a form of exposure therapy used to treat anxiety.  If a person has an irrational fear or phobia, the psychologist exposes them to the stimulus in a controlled environment while helping them utilize relaxation techniques.  This intervention can be quick and effective, but potentially traumatic for the client.  The positives versus negatives should be carefully considered.


If the CS is repeatedly presented without the US, eventually the CS will stop eliciting the CR. This can be targeted in therapy in order to treat anxiety, by repeatedly presenting the CS without the feared consequences, the anxiety should be eliminated.  This can be done in vivo (exposure while preventing the anxiety response) or through imagination.

***There are other forms of therapeutic interventions that use classical conditioning such as sensate focus and assertiveness training.  Comment below if you have come across any other treatment approaches that utilize classical conditioning.

OPERANT CONDITIONINGschedule of reinforcement

Also called instrumental conditioning in which reward and punishment are used to modify behavior.  There are a variety of different schedules of reinforcement including variable ratio, fixed ratio, variable interval, and fixed interval,and continuous reinforcement.  The basics of the theory are that you either add or remove stimulus with the goal to either increase or decrease behavior. There are a few factors that impact the effectiveness: satiation, immediacy, contingency, and size. If you need a refreshment on the theory you can read about it here.


This is the most straight forward way of using the theory of operant conditioning in practical application.  Initially every step toward a target behavior is reinforced, then slowly reinforced for more and more specific behaviors.  For more specific information on shaping review the topic here. 

Premack Principle

Using more desirable behavior to reinforce low desirable behavior, basically making ones own behavior the reinforcer.  For example, telling a child if they complete their homework they can watch television.  In this example the homework is the low desire behavior and television is the high desirable behavior.  Read more in detail here.

Token Economies

Behavior is rewarded on a continuous reinforcement (every time) schedule with a symbol or token.  The Tokens are then saved, accumulated, and exchanged for a desired reward at a later time.  For example, children are given stickers for completing chores and save them up for a chance to go see a movie.  Read more in detail here.

Avoidance Learning

To properly implement avoidance learning there needs to be an aversive stimulus.  The aversive stimulus can be completely avoided by eliminating the target behavior in a specific time period.  For example not drinking to avoid a hang over.

Escape Learning

Escape learning differs from avoidance learning in that the aversive stimulus can not be completely avoided because it has already started, but it can be lessened or stopped by not continuing to engage in the target behavior.  For example, moving into the shade once you notice yourself starting to burn.

Positive Punishment

Adding an aversive stimulus in order to reduce a targeted behavior.  For example, spanking a child after they have broken a rule.  Significant research has been conducted on this specific research style, and it has been shown to momentarily suppress behavior, but is not overly effective at eliminating the behavior entirely.

***There are other forms of therapeutic interventions that use operant conditioning such as contingency contracting, differential reinforcement, self-reinforcement, self-monitoring, stimulus control, and overcorrection.  Comment below if you have come across any other treatment approches that utilize operant conditioning.


The theory that “learning can occur purely through observation or direct instruction.”  This can also include vicarious reinforcement, which involves the ability to learn through observing others being reinforced or punished.

Symbolic Modeling

Used to address anxiety in therapy, it involves the client observing a filmed interaction between a model and the feared object or situation. The interactions progress more and more toward the most feared anxiety provoking situation and the client uses this film to learn through observation how to manage their fear.  To read more about this technique read about it here.

Live Modeling

Similar to symbolic modeling but rather than watching a film, the client watches the model interacting with the feared stimulus live.  The client still learns through observation rather than their own interaction with the feared object or stimulus.


Similar to live modeling except it involves interaction with live models.  The models guide the individual towards increasingly interacting with the feared object or situation on their own.  This strategy is often used with children .

You may find the information on this site is not enough to help you feel confident about your ability to pass the exam, That is OK and only you can be the judge of what you need. If this information seems overwhelming to you it does NOT mean you will fail the exam, but you may require a little more in depth material than is offered here That is why there is a Product Reviews page which will give you a variety of additional options, as well as practice exam questions which I highly recommend as explained on the Study Tips page.

***Comment below if you have come across any other treatment approaches that utilize operant conditioning.If you have any questions, additional therapeutic interventions based on behavioral interventions, or study tips or strategies please comment below.

4 thoughts on “List of Behavioral Interventions: Top 13 Therapy Tools

    1. You’re best to speak to your physician, a psychiatrist, an addiction counselor, social worker, or a psychologist about this. It’s meant to be a very quick and immediate intervention, and used in conjunction with other therapeutic strategies. Disulfram is only used if the client is trying to achieve complete abstinence from alcohol. Good luck on your journey, thanks for your comment!

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