Behavioral therapy is based on the principles of conditioning and learned behaviors. Classical conditioning, or the stimulus-response paradigm, is illustrated famously by Pavlov’s dogs, who learned to salivate when they heard a bell. Operant conditioning, promulgated by Skinner, postulated that positive or negative reinforcement of a behavior would determine whether it would be repeated. Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral and rational-emotive therapies grew from these basic principles. The goal of these approaches is to reduce or eliminate the client’s symptoms by correcting cognition, emotion, and behavior (Baardseth et al., 2013).
Psychoanalytic theories, however, focus less on the symptoms of the present time and more on the past events that caused them. The ultimate goal of psychoanalysis is to uncover the developmental upsets that are in the unconscious mind and to bring them to the surface to be examined by the conscious mind. In this way, psychoanalysis examines processes in a person’s mind and associated memories going back into infancy, then connects them to present symptoms. At that point, the client gains insight on the causes of his or her problems, which may permit those problems to disappear completely, or at least, to allow them to be confronted directly (Pilecki, Thoma, & McKay, 2015). Freud, who initiated the field of psychoanalysis, believed that humans passed through several psychosexual stages in childhood (oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital) and that traumatic experiences could cause a person to fixate on a certain stage. That stage would continue to influence the person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors until he or she returned to memories of that stage and processed them. Problems of development also resulted in counterproductive defense mechanisms, most of which also resided in the unconscious. One could identify psychoanalysis as a bottom-up therapy, while behavioral therapy is top-down (Shedler, 2012).

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  • Baardseth, T. P., Goldberg, S. B., Pace, B. T., Wislocki, A. P., Frost, N. D., Siddiqui, J. R., … & Minami, T. (2013). Cognitive-behavioral therapy versus other therapies: Redux. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(3), 395-405.
  • Pilecki, B., Thoma, N., & McKay, D. (2015). Cognitive Behavioral and Psychodynamic Therapies: Points of Intersection and Divergence. Psychodynamic psychiatry, 43(3), 463-490.
  • Shedler, J. (2012). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. In Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Research (pp. 9-25). Humana Press.