Behavioral Activation in the Treatment of Depression

There are many ways to cope with depression. However, first you need to understand the origins of the problem. Behavioral action is one kind of treatment.
Behavioral Activation in the Treatment of Depression
Alicia Escaño Hidalgo

Written and verified by the psychologist Alicia Escaño Hidalgo.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

“What makes people happy is activity.'”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-

You usually make the mistake of thinking that to carry out projects or activities, you must feel willing or motivated in some way.  If not, you tend to think it’s better to leave it for another time when you feel more like it.

However, these kinds of thoughts can end up trapping you. This is especially the case if you feel depressed. That’s because motivation only appears after continuous activation and not vice versa. In other words, action precedes motivation.

behavioral activation

Behavioral activation

Experts came to this conclusion a few years ago. This was due to the results of a study on the efficacy of Beck’s Cognitive Therapy. The study was conducted by Jacobson, Dobson, et al.

The most interesting fact that the study revealed was that behavioral activation on its own was as effective in treating depression as complete cognitive therapy and antidepressant medication.

From this perspective, depression is seen as a negative situation, when you find yourself without any reinforcements or incentives.

The objective of behavioral action is to give you back yourr lust for life. This is achieved through action. The action of realizing that there are countless people, situations, places, moments, and experiences that can restore their happiness.

The problem is that if you suffer from depression you have a tendency to use behavioral avoidance. This is precisely the opposite of what’s being proposed with behavioral action. In fact, you stop going out, stop doing activities that before were so enjoyable for you, and stop interacting with others. This only contributes to maintaining and increasing your feelings of sadness and apathy. Therefore, this tends to also confirm your negative thoughts about yourself. Furthermore, you think your future looks black.


The importance of being active

Naturally, when you don’t feel like doing anything you get taken over by a feeling of inertia. In fact, you completely avoid living and enjoying what’s around you. Furthermore, you find it impossible to improve your mood. Indeed, you’re unable to think in a more positive way about life because you don’t give yourself the opportunity to get to know about all the enjoyable things out there that are waiting for you.

It’s extremely important that you realize that getting active is the key to improving how you feel. In fact, it cuts the vicious circle of depression and releases you from our prison of depression. Consequently, you start to see that, as well as injustice and adversity, there are also joys and pleasures in the world.

This doesn’t mean it’s expected that you suddenly start partying every day. In fact, the objective of behavioral action is to program your day-to-day with realistic and reinforcing activities that you feel capable of carrying out.

It makes no sense to propose reactivities that aren’t reinforcing for you. What you need to do is to renew your desires, objectives, and motives.

Later, when you emerge from your passivity, you can start to carry out activities that require a little more effort. Perhaps some that you’ve never even done before but would like to try.

One of the problems that usually arise when proposing behavioral activation is that, due to your depressed mood, you give yourself reasons for not carrying out the activity or abandoning it. That’s because you don’t feel capable, you believe it won’t work, or that it’s just not worth the effort.

Sometimes, it also happens that if you’re unable to carry out the task perfectly, you give up and then beat yourself up over it.

Get out


Therefore, it’s important to educate yourself and realize that your thoughts are influencing your behavior, and are the product of your negative vision. What you need to do is stay active, despite any negative thoughts, even if it takes a tremendous effort. Eventually, you’ll be rewarded with an escape from your unpleasant emotional state.

Depression is a vicious cycle in which you’re left spinning out of control until you make the decision to leave. Behavioral activation is seen as a way out of that spiral. In fact, it’s a door that leads to the rediscovery of your well-being and happiness.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.