What Is Behavioral Health Counseling?

Behavioral health disorders are conditions that affect a person’s mood, thinking and behavior. They can cause problems in relationships, at work and in other areas of life.

Behavioral health counseling is a type of therapy that helps people manage these disorders. It can also help people prevent them from developing in the first place.

Behavioral health counselors work with clients to identify their goals and create a treatment plan. They may use techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and related therapies to help their clients change their thoughts and behaviors.

Counselors may also provide support and guidance on issues like stress management, coping with anxiety or depression and making lifestyle changes.

Behavioral health counseling is sometimes also called mental health counseling, psychiatric counseling or psychotherapy. It can be used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance abuse and addiction

Behavioral Health Vs. Mental Health

physical and mental health

Mental and behavioral health are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Mental health refers to a person’s overall emotional well-being, while behavioral health refers to how specific behaviors affect one’s mental health.

Mental health includes our ability to cope with stress, work productively and form healthy relationships. It’s important to remember that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Everyone has periods of good mental health and bad mental health throughout their lives.

Behavioral health counseling can help people who are struggling with mental illness by teaching them healthy coping mechanisms and giving them the tools they need to manage their symptoms.

What Do Behavioral Health Counselors Do?

mental health care for mental disorders

Behavioral health counselors employ a variety of techniques to help their clients improve their mental health. They may use cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people to identify and change negative thinking patterns that can lead to unhealthy behaviors.

They may also use problem-solving therapy, which helps people to develop coping skills for dealing with difficult life situations.

In addition to counseling, behavioral health counselors may also provide case management services. This may involve working with other professionals, such as doctors and social workers, to coordinate care for their clients.

What Are the Education Requirements for Behavioral Health Counselors?

mental health disorder

Most behavioral health counselors have at least a master’s degree in counseling or a related field. Some states require counselors to be licensed or certified.

Typically, behavioral health counselors complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree program and then a 2- to 3-year master’s degree program in counseling or a related field. Some programs offer dual degrees that allow students to complete both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in 5 to 7 years.

In order to be licensed, counselors must usually complete a set number of supervised clinical hours. Some states also require counselors to pass an exam.

Types of Behavioral Health Counseling Therapies

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on helping people change their negative thinking patterns and behaviors. It focuses on how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are interconnected, and usually involves homework assignments and exercises to help you practice new, more positive ways of thinking and behaving.

CBT has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People who would be good candidates for CBT include those who:

  • have a mental health condition
  • are experiencing symptoms that are impacting their daily life
  • are motivated to change their thoughts and behaviors
  • are able to commit to attending sessions and completing homework assignments

CBT is not right for everyone, and it is important to talk with your therapist about whether or not it is the right treatment for you.

Cognitive-Behavioral Play Therapy (CBPT)

CBPT is a type of play therapy that uses cognitive-behavioral techniques. It is typically used with children ages 3 to 12, but can be adapted for use with older children.

CBPT has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of mental health conditions in children, including anxiety, depression, ADHD and conduct disorders.

The goal of CBPT is to help children understand and change their thoughts and behaviors. CBPT is usually short-term, with sessions lasting 30 to 60 minutes, and most children will need 10 to 20 sessions.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Developed specifically for people with borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of CBT that emphasizes building skills to help people cope with stress, manage their emotions and improve relationships.

Like CBT, DBT focuses on helping people change negative thinking patterns and unhealthy behaviors. However, DBT also includes a focus on acceptance and mindfulness.

This technique can help those who find it difficult to accept themselves or who are always in conflict with something internal, external or both.

People who undergo DBT learn skills in four main areas:

  • Mindfulness: learning to be present in the moment and aware of thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment.
  • Distress tolerance: learning how to cope with difficult situations in healthier ways.
  • Emotion regulation: learning how to identify and manage emotions in a healthy way.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness: learning how to communicate effectively and set boundaries.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

This sort of therapy also aids patients in accepting themselves and recognizing habits that are harming them.

ACT is unique in that it uses mindfulness and acceptance techniques alongside commitment and behavior change strategies.

The goal of ACT is to help people move away from unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and towards a more fulfilling life.

ACT can be a great therapy for those who find it difficult to stick to traditional forms of therapy.

Techniques Used in Behavioral Health Counseling

Cognitive Restructuring

This involves helping patients to identify and challenge negative thoughts that may be affecting their behaviors.

Cognitive restructuring can be a very effective way of helping people to change their behavior.

Exposure Therapy

Through controlled and safe exposure to a feared object or situation, patients can learn to control their reactions and eventually overcome their fears.

Exposure therapy can be very helpful for those with phobias or other anxiety disorders.

Behavioral Activation

Behavioral activation is a treatment that focuses on helping people to engage in activities that they enjoy. The goal is to reinforce healthy activities that bring lasting joy.

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization is a form of exposure therapy, similar to exposure therapy, that helps people to overcome their fears by gradually exposing them to the things they fear.

It differs from exposure therapy in that it uses relaxation techniques to help people deal with their anxiety.

Aversion Therapy

Aversion therapy combines addictive or unhealthy compulsions with an unpleasant experience in order to help people break their bad habits.

The goal is to make the unhealthy behavior less attractive by pairing it with something that causes discomfort.


There are many different techniques that counselors can use to help their clients.

The best approach depends on the individual and the specific problem they are trying to overcome.

If you think you might benefit from counseling, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional to learn more.

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