What is Behavioral Activation Therapy and How Can it Help You?

Posted by Marie Miguel - Guest Post on 5/16/2018

What is Behavioral Activation Therapy and How Can it Help You?

Depression can be hard to treat for many individuals, and a combination of therapy, supplements or medication can help treat it and aid in a return to living a full life. When it comes to therapy, there are many types that are used to treat depression, and an individual may have different experiences depending on the type of therapy. 

One such form of therapy that can treat depression is behavioral activation therapy, which involves the depressed person developing a routine. 

What is Behavioral Activation Therapy?

Proponents of behavioral activation therapy believe that as you become depressed, you isolate yourself from your environment and usual routines, and stop doing what you need to do, and love to do. This creates a cycle – because you are depressed, you stop being active, and your decreased activity worsens your depression, preventing you from being active again.

One piece of advice that many depressed people receive, and may grow tired of hearing, is that the depressed person should put themselves out there, or talk to people. For a depressed person, this can be difficult. When you have depression, it’s not so easy to go outside and exercise, or try something new in your life. 

However, there is truth to the idea that these activities can lower your depression. Working out can help release feel-good chemicals in your brain such as serotonin, and improve your overall mental (and physical!) health. Meanwhile, a new activity can help lower your depression as well, as your interest may be piqued.

These activities can be working out, trying a new restaurant, doing chores, self-care activities, or spending time with your family, like watching a movie or playing board games. Behavioral activation therapy strives to allow you to return to these behaviors, which will not only allow you to live a better life, but help improve your depression. 

How It’s Applied

You may wonder how behavioral activation therapy is applied. Here are some things you might expect when going through this type of treatment.

  • Your therapist may ask you to list activities that are important. There may be hobbies or other activities you did or were interested in doing before you started to experience depression. Creating a list of activities you want to and need to do is important, because if you don’t have any, you may find it hard to be interested in anything. The activities should not be vague, but instead measurable and specific. There should also be a variety of activities in order to stimulate you and prevent boredom.
  • You should order the activities in terms of difficulty. One way to achieve progress is to start with something easy and then progress to the next-most difficult activity. Avoid performing a ‘harder’ activity first, or you may lose motivation.
  • When trying to do the activities, you should ask for help if you can’t do them, or try talking to your therapist. One way you can do this is through online therapy, which can allow you to talk to your therapist in a more flexible and portable manner, and you can talk to them if you’re having trouble. 
  • Be mindful of any behaviors that can cause you to avoid doing the activity, such as negative thoughts or excuses.
  • Remember to take it slow. Everyone improves at their own pace, and it could take you a while to see any progress. If you rush things, you might lose the motivation that is so crucial to dealing with your depression. 
  • Whenever you do accomplish your goals, don’t forget to reward* yourself. Treat yourself, give yourself a pat on the back, and do anything else that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. 

Behavioral activation therapy can be just one tool you can use to treat depression, and can be very useful.

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