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About 42.1 million Americans smoke cigarettes, according to the CDC, and a majority of them smoke every day. The adverse effects of cigarettes are well publicized, and as a result almost 70% of adult smokers in the United States have said they want to quit. However, first attempts to quit completely are almost never successful. As reported by the Surgeon General in 2010, many smokers who try to quit on their own require several attempts, and some polling has suggested that smokers try to quit 3.6 times on average.

Addictive behaviors, such as cigarette smoking, are often ingrained in an individual and hard to change. Many problem behaviors occur unbeknownst to the sufferer, as is often the case with nail biting, for instance. These subconscious habits may occur when a person is bored or anxious. Union Square Practice employs evidence-based strategies to help people quit smoking. One mode of treatment that has been found helpful for stopping aversive habits (e.g., smoking) is called behavior modification therapy. It is based on the principle that a behavior can be controlled by what happens before and after it. If these events are altered, it can change the likelihood that the behavior will continue.

Behavior Modification Therapy, also called Awareness Therapy, is an effective way to combat unhealthy or nuisance behaviors such as mindless snacking, smoking, nail-biting, and more. It was developed from the findings of experiments conducted by Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner. Pavlov discovered that a behavior (such as salivating) could be associated with a stimulus that normally wouldn’t provoke such behavior through a process called conditioning. Skinner’s research expanded upon this and focused on how behavioral consequences could affect whether or not the behavior would occur in the future. Behavior modification techniques incorporate this idea. Positive or negative reinforcers can be used to either encourage a certain behavior or discourage an unwanted one.

Some companies are developing tools in the spirit of behavior modification therapy. Devices like Pavlok, named after Ivan Pavlov, present more treatment options to support people invested in the process of behavior change. Pavlok, in particular, presents a predetermined vibrate, shock, or beep in response to self activation while engaging in unwanted behavior. It raises an awareness of unwanted behaviors to an individual so that they may decide whether they want to engage in the behavior or not. Paired with mindfulness and motivational interviewing, it can help people follow through with being more aware of their actions and, as a result, change them.

Often times, these tools can function as great aids for reversing bad habits, but many individuals may also benefit from the education and emotional support of trained therapists who are well-versed in behavior modification and have years of experience helping people overcome bad habits. Union Square Practice’s clinicians may be especially helpful with these habits when their cessation can have medical consequences.

Clinicians at Union Square Practice plan to use behavior modification devices in an upcoming Smoking Cessation Therapy Group. If you’re interested in learning more about this group or want to join, email us at If you’re interested in other kinds of behavior modification (nail biting, etc.), don’t hesitate to reach out, we’d love to hear from you.