ABA vs CBT: What’s The Difference?

If you’ve done enough research regarding behavioral therapy, you’ve probably seen two common therapy types come up in conversation: Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In fact, they are often compared to each other or even equated as being the same kind of therapy.

But while they share some similarities, ABA and CBT are not the same, and can’t be used as a substitute for one another. Let’s take a look a what these two practices are used for, and how they differ.

What Is Applied Behavioral Analysis?

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a form of behavioral therapy that is most widely used to treat children and adults on the autism spectrum. At its core, ABA uses a variety of strategies to reinforce desired behaviors, deter negative behaviors, and help the subject to develop essential and useful skills over time. Much of it involves positive reinforcement and reward systems.

Treatment can include specific techniques including but not limited to: discrete trial training, pivotal response training, and early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI). Though ABA can be carried out one-on-one or in a group setting, it is highly individualized and tailored to the subject and their needs. Treatment can be carried out in a clinic or treatment center, at home, or out in ‘natural’ settings such as supermarkets, schools, playgrounds etc.

ABA can lead to the development of a variety of positive behaviors and skills, such as:

  • Language and communication
  • Social skills
  • Motor skills
  • Domestic abilities
  • Academics
  • Focus and attention
  • Memory
  • Mindfulness
  • And more

While ABA therapy is most commonly associated with autism, it can also be used to treat disorders such as dementia, ADHD, anger issues, and anxiety, in combination with other therapies and medication.

What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

On the other hand, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. It is carried out one-on-one with a therapist or psychotherapist over a series of sessions.

CBT therapy is a useful tool that helps people to identify thinking and thought patterns that can lead to self-destructive and negative feelings and behaviors. By recognizing, intercepting, and changing these negative thoughts, people can develop healthier patterns of thought and find better ways to react to difficult situations.

Studies suggest that CBT can lead to a higher quality of life and improved mental functioning in the long term. It can be used on its own to combat stressful life situations and disorders, or it can be used in a combination with other effective therapies.

AnxietyThis form of psychotherapy is most commonly used to treat mental health disorders and other issues, including but not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger issues
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • PTSD
  • Personality disorders
  • Panic attacks

However, it is not only used to treat these issues. CBT can be very beneficial for anyone who is struggling through particularly stressful periods and can help with issues such as a breakup, relationship problems, divorce, grief and loss, low self-esteem, and more.

How Do ABA And CBT Differ?

These two treatments do share some similarities – for example, they are both used to curb negative behavior. They are also widely used evidence-based best practices, meaning they have been rigorously tested by scientific professionals to ensure that they are effective and reliable. Depending on the individual, either one of these treatments can also be used to treat the same disorder (autism, anxiety, anger issues, etc).

But as therapy treatments, there are some major differences. Overall, CBT is used to change a person’s outlook and behavior (ie intrusive thoughts) by giving them the tools to improve their overall emotional state or general attitude. This is largely done through one-on-one conversational therapy sessions (talk therapy) and is carried out in very similar ways from person to person.

On the other hand, ABA is concerned with quantifiable progress that can be measured and evaluated in order to find specific strategies that work for the subject in question. It also has a much broader aim in treatment. While CBT works to improve attitude and emotions, ABA is used to develop a wide range of skills and encourage and discourage various types of behaviors.

Though they may seem similar, applied behavioral analysis and cognitive behavior therapy are two psychological treatments that are very different in theory and application. They are also reliable treatments for a range of issues.

If you’re interested in learning more about ABA therapy and ABA vs CBT therapy, or you feel like it might be a good treatment option for you or your loved one, reach out to our team at Bolling ABA. We offer behavioral consulting services for people affected by autism and related disorders. Give us a call at +404-981-4105 or contact us via email to book your first appointment.

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