Behavioral Activation for Depression: What, Why, and How
Written by Kat Harris, PhD, LCP
Behavioral activation is an important component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy includes many components and is based on the principle that thoughts/beliefs (Cognitions), emotions, physical symptoms, and behaviors are all intricately related. Helping someone feel better using CBT would typically involve changing unhelpful thoughts/beliefs (Cognitions), emotions, and behaviors via a variety of tools such as cognitive restructuring, emotion regulation and distress tolerance skills, mindfulness, behavioral activation, coping skill development, interpersonal effectiveness skill refinement, trauma processing, etc. CBT is considered a Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)/an Empirically Supported Treatment and is the gold-standard treatment approach across many client concerns.
Specifically, changing behaviors is one of the core goals in CBT, as it is thought that behavioral change allows for healthy corrective experiences that can alter unhealthy beliefs about the self, world (including others), and one’s future. Avoidance and withdrawal, some of the key features of depression and other disorders, inhibits an individual's opportunity and ability to obtain corrective experiences and positive reinforcement from their environment. Therefore, behavioral activation treatment involves encouraging “activation” and participation in “anti-depressant” activities…interaction with one’s environment in a way that offers opportunities for positive reinforcement and increases in self-efficacy (a person’s belief in their ability to exert control over their lives and their world).
To learn more about depression, see our Depression Specialty Page.