Behavioral Activation

There are many different theories on treating depression. Behavioral Activation is a CBT treatment for depression that helps people understand environmental causes of their depression, and targets behaviors that maintain or worsen the depression. Life events, including loss, trauma, biological predispositions to depression, and the day-to-day hassles of life, can result in people experiencing reduced positive reinforcement in their lives. People generally find ways of coping with these life events, but sometimes coping strategies that work in the short-run can prove detrimental in the long-run. For instance, coping with depressed mood by withdrawing socially is a common response, but, if sustained for an extended period of time, limits the rewarding experiences that come with regular social interaction. In this way, the depression lasts much longer, and results in decreased functioning and undue distress.

Behavioral activation targets the downward momentum of depression. When depression results in a lack of motivation,  behavioral activation works from the "outside-in", by helping the client schedule activities and using graded task assignment to help gradually begin to increase their opportunities for rewarding experiences. This results in a gradual improvement in mood, which is sustained by the increased motivation that results from improved mood.

Recent research on behavioral activation has shown it is as efficacious as antidepressant medication in the short-term, and more effective than medication in reducing risk of relapse. Furthermore, with moderate to severe depression, behavioral activation has been shown to be more effective than traditional cognitive therapy. Behavioral activation has been shown to be effective in as few as 12 sessions, and most individuals see significant reduction in depressive symptoms by 24 sessions. 


For more information about what CBT is, what it is used to treat, and the methods we use, explore our site using the navigation menu at the top of this page, or visit our cognitive behavioral therapy exercises pages.