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Behavioral Activation as a therapy against depression

Behavioral Activation as a therapy against depression

May 16, 2024

Jacobson (1996) called Behavioral Activation (AC) to the programming of activities, applied together with cognitive intervention techniques, that allow to improve some deficit or behavioral excess in the person.

Is about a therapy aimed at the treatment of depression and that he understands the behaviors of the person who suffers it not only as a symptom, but as part of the essence and maintenance of the disorder.

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What is Behavioral Activation?

Among the symptoms of depression, one of the most characteristic is inaction , which is part of a vicious circle in which the person who suffers is immersed: the lack of activity affects the state of mind and, in the same way, the depressed mood produces lack of activity. This relationship is the epicenter of the proposal of Behavioral Activation, which contemplates some types of depression as elaborate forms of avoidance.

The objective of this therapy, framed within the therapies of third generation of the cognitive-behavioral current, and that is in itself a therapy proper, is that the depressed patients can organize their lives and change their environment to reestablish their relationship with sources of stimulation that involve positive reinforcement for them .

Some of the interventions with methods of behavioral activation, aimed at reducing depressive symptoms are: the prioritization of tasks, the programming of vital objectives, the reinforcement of social contact behaviors and the performance of rewarding activities.

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How does it work?

The therapy is fundamentally based on prescribe activities to break dormant dynamics . In order to be effective, especially at the beginning, it is necessary that the programming includes easy, rewarding activities (not only pleasurable, because we look for activities that are satisfactory and that require effort) gradual and that are very well planned, then, especially at the beginning of the program, it is easy for difficulties to arise.

The current meta-analytic reviews (Cuijpers, van Straten and Warmer-dam, 2007) and experimental works in which different therapeutic approaches have been compared - antidepressant medication, cognitive therapy and behavioral activation therapy- (Dimidjian et al., 2006) have revealed what purely behavioral interventions are sufficient for an efficient and effective approach in depressive disorders.

Its advantages

Some of the advantages of the Behavioral Activation programs are the following.

He has demonstrated ample scientific evidence

Compared to pharmacological therapy, it has obtained comparable results and a higher percentage of remission in the subjects, as well as adherence to treatment .

It is a simple treatment to apply

Compared to other proposals, it does not require so many steps.

Does not require modification of thoughts, whose procedure is more complex

The data suggest that the application of behavioral components by themselves they obtain the same result as the application of complete cognitive therapy .


In short, Behavioral Activation is a therapy with strong empirical support, which provides a new opportunity for treatment for people suffering from depression.

Bibliographic references:

  • Cuijpers, P., van Straten A. and Warmerdam, L. (2007) Psychological treatment versus combined treatment of depression: A metaaalnysis. Drepress Anx: in press.
  • Dimidjian, S., Hollon, S.D., Dobson, K.S., Schmaling, K.B., Kohlenberg, R.J., Addis, M.E., and Jacobson, N.S. (2006). Randomized trial of behavioral activation, cognitive therapy, and antidepressant medication in the treatment of adults with major depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74 (4), 658-670. //

Behavioral Activation program at Aurora Psychiatric Hospital (May 2024).

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