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Within the mental health world, we tend to broaden how we talk about treatments. We refer to treatments using categories, like “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (CBT), when really, there are many specific actions, activities, and treatment styles within these different treatments.

For example, one component of CBT is known as “behavioral activation.” It can be used as part of a treatment for many mental health conditions and is a core component of CBT treatment for depression. We use it often for mold to moderate depression symptoms here at Flourish Psychology in Brooklyn – though it is important to note that it is frequently combined with other components of CBT, along with non-CBT therapies depending on the patient.

What is Behavioral Activation?

Behavioral activation is a term that refers to helping individuals overcome depression by increasing their engagement in rewarding and fulfilling activities. It recognizes that depression often leads to withdrawal, avoidance, and a decrease in pleasurable and meaningful activities, which can further perpetuate the cycle of depression. The goal of behavioral activation is to help individuals gradually increase their activity levels and reconnect with positive experiences.

Techniques in Behavioral Activation

Even within behavioral activation, there are specific techniques that therapists may use and implement. Some of these are structured, and will be a part of every treatment. Others may be mentioned or discussed in therapy based on the feedback and information provided by the patient. These include:

  1. Activity Monitoring – The therapist and individual work together to identify activities that the individual used to enjoy or find fulfilling but has stopped engaging in due to depression. They may keep a record of daily activities, including the type of activity, the duration, and the level of pleasure or mastery experienced during each activity.
  2. Activity Scheduling – Based on the activity monitoring, the therapist and individual collaboratively develop a structured schedule of activities that includes both enjoyable and necessary tasks. The schedule is designed to gradually increase the person’s engagement in pleasurable activities and restore a sense of accomplishment.
  3. Behavioral Experiments – The therapist and individual may design behavioral experiments to test the individual’s beliefs or assumptions about certain activities. For example, if the person believes that they won’t enjoy going for a walk, they might be encouraged to try it out and examine their actual experience. This helps challenge negative expectations and promotes the discovery of new sources of pleasure or mastery.
  4. Breaking Tasks into Smaller Steps – For individuals who find it challenging to initiate or complete tasks due to feeling overwhelmed, the therapist may help them break down activities into smaller, more manageable steps. This makes the tasks seem less daunting and increases the likelihood of engagement.
  5. Graded Task Assignment – Tasks are assigned in a step-by-step manner, gradually increasing in difficulty or complexity. This approach allows individuals to experience a sense of mastery and build confidence as they successfully complete increasingly challenging activities.
  6. Problem-Solving – If barriers or obstacles arise during activity engagement, the therapist assists the individual in problem-solving and finding solutions to overcome those challenges. This fosters adaptive coping skills and resilience.

By gradually increasing engagement in rewarding activities, behavioral activation aims to counteract the negative reinforcement cycle of depression. It helps individuals experience positive emotions, regain a sense of accomplishment, and improve overall mood and functioning.

CBT and Behavioral Activation as Treatment for Depression

Behavioral activation is one of many effective ways to start helping those with depression regain their quality of life and promote a healthier mindset. It is very effective, but like other treatments, it is not typically provided on its own. It is combined with other components of CBT, such as cognitive restructuring, and may also be combined with treatments outside of CBT depending on the individual and the therapist.

Whether you and your therapist choose to pursue behavioral activation, or use a different strategy, it is helpful to recognize that CBT is multifaceted and complex. We, as therapists, may talk about CBT as though it is one strategy performed one way, but within it are many different approaches that can all help those with depression – and other mental health conditions – find relief from their symptoms.

Learn more or get started with CBT for depression by contacting Flourish Psychology in NYC, today.