Behavioral activation: one of the most effective therapies for depression

Depression and all related conditions or disorders have been a major area of ​​research from the point of view of psychological treatment. Throughout the history of psychology, researchers have struggled to develop an effective therapy that relieves the symptoms of this disease in the shortest possible time.

One of these recent treatments is behavioral activation. Therapy based on the idea that changing the patient’s behavior will have a positive impact on their mood.

    What is behavioral activation?

    Behavioral Activation (KA) is a relatively new therapy, it doesn’t have much more than 30 years of history after it, which treats depression functionally and from the perspective of the person’s context.

    According to the creators of this type of intervention, behavioral activation it is based on the person’s context to explain their symptoms. Thus, advocacy therapy acting on this context is much more effective than doing it on symptoms or internal factors, such as neurobiological alterations or psychological symptoms.

    In addition, behavioral activation establishes that the behaviors of depressed people are more than mere symptoms of the clinical picture and that they have a very important meaning in the disorder.

    The psychological mechanism on which behavioral activation is based has to do with the emergence of habits capable of providing immediate and medium-term incentives, capable of making the person more active psychologically and mentally. In other words, thanks to new ways of interacting with the environment and with others, a more optimistic and constructive mentality is favored, Oriented towards specific goals and on which we can concentrate, detach ourselves from disturbing thoughts.

      How did it come about?

      Behavioral activation comes from behavioral techniques which are carried out as part of Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy.

      The initial idea was to make a comparison between the behavioral part of the traditional intervention, the behavioral intervention with the cognitive intervention and the whole therapy. After making this comparison, the results showed that it was only by making a behavioral modification in the patient that he showed the same level of improvement as with the full intervention.

      Therefore, it was concluded that cognitive modification or intervention techniques were not as necessary in the treatment of depression, Assuming only one ballast for processing. Following these findings, it was proposed to consider the purely behavioral intervention as a therapy independent of traditional cognitive therapy, becoming what is now called behavioral activation.

      It should be clarified that although behavioral activation does not work on the cognition of the person, it is not ignored. Rather, they are expected to change as a result of changes in behavior.

        Principles of behavioral activation

        There are two aspects to consider when starting a behavioral activation intervention:

        • The context or situation that caused the behavior.
        • The functionality or the effects have this behavior on the person.

        In this way, behavioral activation assesses and analyzes both events that appear in the patient’s life and behavioral responses that this gives to these situations.

        When it comes to the person’s responses, one of the basic tenets of behavioral activation is that the depressed person conducts a series of avoidant behaviors consequence of the lack of positive reinforcement and the predominance of non-stimulating situations. This tendency to avoidance can be manifested by the interruption of daily tasks and activities, by ruminating thoughts or by the interactions that the person has or not with other people.

        How does it work as a psychological intervention?

        Taking into account the principle of behavioral avoidance, behavioral activation therapy aims to restore the behavioral dynamics of the person before depression.

        The first step in doing this is to activate the person, hence the name of therapy, even if they are depressed. By this, behavioral activation aims to systematically increase the number of positive behaviors that the person leads with the intention that they find a greater number of reinforcers that promote a change of the person in terms of behavior, cognition and d ‘mood.

        However, behavioral activation is not about increasing the number of behaviors of the person whatever their nature, but a functional behavioral analysis should be performed to detect significant and functional behaviors that need to be improved.

        Behavioral activation is therefore a therapy developed and adapted to the patient’s peculiarities.

        Finally, the dynamic of therapy is not to change cognition and mood so that the person changes behavior, but to act despite the mood. This particular point is closely associated with acceptance and commitment therapy, in which the person must first accept their current state act and be able to change it.

        Benefits of this type of psychotherapy

        Proponents of behavioral activation therapy rely on a number of advantages or advantages that it provides over other therapies such as pharmacological or cognitive.

        These advantages are as follows.


        Behavioral activation is presented as an effective and rapid alternative to the pharmacological treatment of depressionBe as effective as that and without causing unwanted side effects.

        Therefore, this discourse in favor of demedicalization has managed to gain many followers.

        2. Alternative to cognitive therapy

        As an alternative to cognitive therapy, behavioral activation has been shown to be much more effective and with much faster results. Since changing thoughts and beliefs requires a greater investment of time.

        3. Speed ​​of results

        By adjusting therapy to the patient’s needs and structuring the patient, behavioral activation it is a therapy that requires a few sessions, about 15, Which is a quick result and an economic advantage over other forms of psychological intervention.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Jacobson, NS; Dobson, KS; Truax, PA; Addis, ME; Koerner, K .; Gollan, JK; Gortner, E. and Prince, SE (1996). Analysis of the components of cognitive-behavioral treatment of depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 64 (2): pages 295 to 304.
        • Martell, CR; Addis, ME and Jacobson, NS (2001). Depression in Context: Guided Action Strategies. New York: WW Norton.
        • Twyman, JS (2007). A new era of science and practice in behavior analysis. Association for Behavior Analysis International: Newsletter, 30 (3): pages 1 to 4.

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