The first use of the term behavior modification therapy appears to have been by Edward Thorndike in 1911. His article “Provisional Laws of Acquired Behavior or Learning” makes frequent use of the term "modifying behavior". Through early research in the 1940s and the 1950s the term was used by Joseph Wolpe's research group. The experimental tradition in clinical psychology used it to refer to psychotherapeutic techniques derived from empirical research. It has since come to refer mainly to techniques for increasing adaptive behavior through reinforcement and decreasing maladaptive behavior through extinction or punishment (with emphasis on the former).
Two related terms are behavior modification therapy and applied behavior analysis. Emphasizing the empirical roots of behavior modification therapy, some authors consider it to be broader in scope and to subsume the other two categories of behavior change methods. Since techniques derived from behavioral psychology tend to be the most effective in altering behavior, most practitioners consider behavior modification therapy along with behavior modification therapy and applied behavior analysis to be founded in behaviorism. While behavior modification therapy encompasses applied behavior analysis and typically uses interventions based on the same behavioral principles, many behavior modifiers who are not applied behavior analysts tend to use packages of interventions and do not conduct functional assessments before intervening.