Behavioral activation therapy is used to deal with depression, in such a way that it is intended to get a person to resume activities that were a source of pleasure. We explain it to you here.
Depression is a mood disorder whose numbers are overwhelming. It is predicted to be the leading cause of disability. 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men suffer from it. As if this were not enough, in the last year the cases increased by 20%. Behavioral activation therapy appears as an alternative for its treatment.
This approach belongs to the so-called third wave therapies. In them, the problem is not treated from the deficit of a person, but in relation to their circumstances. Let’s get to know a little more.
What is behavioral activation therapy?
Behavioral activation (CA) focuses on two keys: context and function. In other words, the question that a therapist asks himself is what happens in that person’s environment and what he is doing about it. This therapy moves away from the mood and emphasis on the cognitive to focus primarily on behavior.
In addition, there is use of reinforcers, which facilitate the person to connect with those activities that generated enjoyment, and work on those mechanisms that sustain depression, such as flight and avoidance.
Likewise, it is an idiographic therapy, tailored to each patient. When looking for what serves as reinforcement for some, it is understood that it may not be the same for others.
Principles of behavioral activation
This therapy is based on a series of principles:
To change how people feel, you have to help them change what they do. Many patients wait to regain motivation to do things and this is exactly what leaves them locked in.
Different situations in life could be triggers for depression. If your coping is only thought in the short term, it can be a blockage. This principle goes back to one of the first explanations of depression, because when there is a high level of punishment or low reinforcement, people learn to avoid that situation.
In order to produce change, you must start with small steps.
While activation actions will be chosen based on what was important or enjoyable for the person, it is also wise to choose actions that by themselves act as reinforcers.
When structuring the plan, think about goals that are not centered around a state of mind. When activating behaviors are chosen, possible obstacles are identified and worked from a problem-solving approach.
What is activation?
As its name implies, behavioral activation therapy focuses on activating the person with depression to return to activities or contact with their previous life. Let us remember that these patients tend to lock themselves up, avoid social contact and even interrupt personal hygiene, among other things.
It is oriented towards coping, which is why it motivates the person to act, even if they do not want to. Achieving a small accomplishment, like going for a 10-minute walk, can improve your mood.
Therapist and patient work together to decide the activities to be carried out during the week, since it is an action-oriented and problem-solving therapy. In all sessions, a moment will be devoted to monitoring progress (which is reflected in a record updated by the patient).
In this interaction, the patient learns to observe her behavior and to think of strategies to stop certain actions or to continue with others. Thus, he becomes the true protagonist of his life.
Now, activation therapy should not be confused simply with the amount of activities that are carried out. These are chosen very specifically and according to specific objectives.
Importance of behavioral activation therapy
In general, depression works through a vicious circle in which the person feels depressed, withdraws from the reality that surrounds them, becomes more and more enclosed and performs less activities, and as a consequence increases their dissatisfaction and discomfort. That is why activation intervenes in that loop and seeks to get the person to activate little by little.
As it focuses on the doing and not on how the patient feels, it raises the performance from the beginning. In addition, by focusing on the agency’s capacity of the person, it allows to provide them with resources so that their results are maintained over time.
In this sense, it has advantages compared to medication, whose effects are diluted when it is withdrawn. Last but not least, being a short therapy it is also more accessible.
When in doubt, do it
The power of behavioral activation therapy is that it works with the behavior of the person to make it work. That is often the hardest part of working with depression.
On the other hand, feeling useful again and returning to pleasant activities works, in many cases, as the trigger for an improvement in mood. That is why the spirit of this approach is synthesized with the phrase: “when in doubt, do it.”
Finally, by not focusing on depression and its biological causes, but on the patient’s life circumstances, it also has an effect with less stigma and less drug use. In this sense, it is oriented to intervene in the person and their environment.