ABA in the world of Mental Health

Published February 25, 2022
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“Ugh! I feel so stuck!”, “I’ve been really down lately.”, “I’m so anxious all the time!” Do any of these sound familiar? Or perhaps have you experienced something a bit more serious when it comes to your mental health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or perhaps Major Depressive Disorder? If so, you are certainly not alone. According to John Hopkins Medicine (2022) 9.5% of American adults suffer from a diagnosable depressive disorder, while about 18% are living with some form of anxiety disorder (including phobias). While many may think traditional psychotherapy is the only answer to treating these mental health conditions, there is another way: Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA. 

A BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) is extensively trained in ABA. At the heart of their training is the skill to evaluate the function, or purpose, of a behavior that is no longer serving an individual, and then support them and/or their loved ones in building the skills and modifying the environment to encourage behavior that is healthy and socially significant for them. When it comes to treating mental health disorders this approach is very goal directed, and allows for the person to take as much control of the process as they feel comfortable with: developing goals, self-monitoring to find patterns in their own behavior, and even take active steps towards changing behavioral patterns once they are known. Often a core complaint for anxiety and depressive disorders is the sense that one has lost control and/or lacks motivation to complete daily tasks. In both of these scenarios ABA strategies can help jump start the ownership over these feelings and give the client a clear plan on how to manage them.

 Self-management training is one approach that teaches self-awareness (patterns of one’s behavior, function or purpose of that behavior, and consequence or result of that behavior), and then works with the client on developing a set of skills to help manage the behaviors that are no longer serving them and cultivate positive behaviors to fill the void. As mentioned above, all behavior serves a purpose and it’s crucial to learn what that purpose is so that the need can be met in a more functional and/or safe way. 

You might have read to this point and be thinking, “But ABA is a treatment for Autism.” Well, you are right! It is. But, the science of behavior analysis has a broad scope that can be used anywhere humans are having behaviors, or as we dorky BCBA’s like to say “anywhere they are breathing!” ABA can be used as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with other therapies as part of a treatment team. It may be the Gold Standard for the treatment of Autism, but see for yourself what it can do for mental health!

John Hopkins Medicine (2022). Mental Health Disorder Statistics.
https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/mental-health-disorder-statistics. Retrieved 2/25/2022

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