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What are third-generation therapies?

What are third-generation therapies?

June 14, 2024

It is estimated that, throughout his life, one in four people will suffer from some type of mental disorder , being the most frequent those linked to anxiety and depression. The treatment of these problems and disorders can be addressed in many ways from the psychology, one of the most common being the use of behavior modification techniques.

Within these techniques, the use of third-generation therapies is becoming more frequent , which modify the behavior while working aspects such as the patient's relationship with the problem and the context in which the aforementioned lives.

  • Related article: "Types of psychological therapies"

Behavior modification therapies

When we talk about third generation therapies, we are talking about one of the most recent types of behavior therapy, elaborated taking into account the limitations of its predecessors. To understand what they are, it is necessary to first remember what a technique or behavior therapy is


The person with a mental disorder usually experiences a deep discomfort due to the realization or the effects of the realization of behavioral and thought patterns that do not efficiently serve to explain or interact with the world, resulting in a non-adaptive behavior and being limited in work and / or thought.

Behavior modification or behavior techniques are based on the idea that it is possible to modify a person's behavioral and cognitive patterns by applying different techniques based on learning . Although the past is taken into account when analyzing how the current situation has been reached, the work to be done focuses on the current problems and symptoms and how to change them.


Modifying such patterns or acquiring others will allow the subject can have a more adaptive behavior, fighting and facing the symptoms of his problem in a more or less direct way and allowing the relief of the suffering of the subject and the optimization of their abilities and functionality as a human being.

  • Related article: Behavior Therapies: first, second and third wave

What are third-generation therapies?

The therapies of third generation or the third wave of behavioral therapies are those set of therapies and treatments created for the purpose of performing a modification of the patient's behavior but from a global approach and close to the person rather than the problem, taking into account the patient's experience of their problem and how the social and cultural context have produced that their behavior is not very adaptive.


Unlike other behavior modification techniques, third-generation therapies are based on the power of context and dialogue to achieve this modification through the acceptance of the problem by both the patient and the therapist.

His objectives

The main objective of this type of therapies it happens to change the way to perceive the problem on the part of the treated individual , without trying extreme control or extirpating their behaviors as if they were something to be ashamed of, but helping them to observe and rethink the relationship between these behaviors and the functionality that has been given to them, as well as their own connection with their habitual functioning, modifying them from the acceptation.

That is to say, there is a need to see treatment not as a struggle against symptoms, but rather as a vital reorientation that allows generating significant, real and permanent changes.

The third generation therapies they fill in some of the shortcomings of their predecessors , such as the lack of focus on the specific aspects of treatment that produce improvement, the provocation of rigid behaviors that in turn may be less adaptive and the little attention given to the patient's habitual communicative context, as well as the perception of one's own suffering .

  • Perhaps you are interested: "Behavioral Cognitive Therapy: what is it and on what principles is it based?"

Some relevant aspects of these therapies

Third generation therapies have a series of characteristics of great interest in the treatment of psychological problems .

In the first place, they consider that the behavior of an individual is not fully explicable if its context is not taken into account. If the treatment is reduced to treat symptoms directly without taking into account the variables that make the behavior something useful or necessary for the patient, the generalization of the treatment to real life will be complicated for the individual in treatment.

Another aspect to consider is that third-generation therapies they take into account the modulating influence of language , the fact that what other people tell us and what feedback they give us regarding our behavior will make us see the behaviors carried out in one way or another.

The therapeutic relationship

Linked to the previous point, it is remarkable the fact that third generation therapies give a fundamental role to the therapeutic relationship .

Although this is common to all or almost all types of psychological therapy, in the case of third-generation therapies, this relationship is seen as an element or instrument of change per se, as a communicative and social interaction takes place that can modify the conduct directly or indirectly. Other types of therapy, although they consider the therapeutic relationship fundamental, see it more as the means by which the patient applies the techniques and not as something that produces a modification by itself.

Beyond the symptoms

Finally, and as we have seen previously, treatment from third-generation therapies involves working with deep aspects of the person, going beyond the presence of symptoms to act in subjectivity and personal perception in order to act on aspects such as life goals, self-perception or feelings and emotions caused by both the problem situations and other life circumstances that may have led to the disorder.

Three third-generation therapies

Although they are not the only ones (there are also others such as cognitive therapy based on Mindfulness, behavioral activation therapy or integrated couples' behavioral therapy), three examples of third-generation therapies are briefly explained below.

Functional Analytic Therapy

This therapy focuses on the functional analysis of behavioral patterns , exploring not only the problem behavior but also the purpose of the behavior and that other behaviors are carried out for the same purpose and with special emphasis on the therapeutic relationship and verbal communication, while taking into account that the behavior is determined by a lot of variables.

Is about help the client identify clinically relevant behaviors , help analyze what is behind, provoke such behaviors and adaptive alternatives, genuinely reinforce those that imply an improvement and help to explain and interpret the behavior so that it can be applied to other vital contexts.

Acceptance and commitment therapy

This technique is one of the best known among third generation therapies, its main objective being to help the patient to discover the fundamental values ​​of the patient and help him accept the pain of the search for a happy life. It focuses mainly on work on values ​​without evading or pathologizing suffering .

Through self-acceptance, the observation of what we think and what beliefs are provoked by these thoughts and the focus on what is current, we seek to guide the patient to become involved and commit to follow their own values ​​regardless of what society dictates, living as one believes that one must live.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Another of the best known therapies within the third generation, dialectical behavioral therapy has been designed in order to help patients with serious emotional problems that induce them to self-destructive behaviors, such as self-mutilation or suicide attempts.

Currently one of the therapies of choice when dealing with the Personality Disorder, is based on the acceptance and validation of the patient's suffering to work dialectically and through various modules the control and management of extreme and unstable emotions. The patient is helped to trust their emotions and thoughts and is helped find factors that push you to want to move forward and to improve their skills regarding emotional self-regulation, tolerance to discomfort, self-observation and management of interpersonal relationships.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almond, M.T. (2012). Psychotherapies CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Hayes, S.C. (2004). Acceptance and commitment therapy, relational frame theory, and the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapies. Behavior therapy, 35, 639-665.
  • Mañas, I. (s.f.). New psychological therapies: The third wave of behavior therapies or third generation therapies. Psychology Gazette, 40; 26-34. University of Almería

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