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Behavioral Activation (BA)


This structured, brief and highly personalized treatment plan for depression focuses on individuals making behavioral changes in their daily life. Behavioral Activation stems from an understanding of depression as a consequence of limited positive reinforcement, particularly in social relationships. It aims to: 

Increase engagement in activities associated with feelings of pleasure, mastery, value or meaning.

Decrease engagement in activities that maintain or increase risk of depression.

Solve problems that limit access to reward or that maintain or increase negative control.

BA interventions can be customized according to an individual’s strengths, values and co-occurring mental health symptoms or challenges.  

Most behavioral treatment models are not exclusively behavioral and often include cognitive components. While BA is not the only way to treat depression, it may help improve symptoms more quickly since behaviors may be easier to access and/or target than thoughts. For example:

    • A teenage girl experiences increased depressive symptoms, including marked fatigue, attributed to her father’s death, her mother’s illness and increased stress at school. 
    • Since the teen frequently feels exhausted, she spends her time alone in bed or on the couch, rather than more actively and socially with friends. This leads to lower energy, a lack of enjoyment or positive social reinforcement and increased sadness/hopelessness—a “vicious” cycle. 
    • BA helps the teen recover by building stepwise pathways to more positive social reinforcement, sparking renewed energy, meaning and enjoyment.

BA techniques

  • Self-monitoring of activities and mood
  • Activity structuring and scheduling
  • Goals and values identification
  • Problem-solving
  • Social-skills training
  • Hierarchy construction (ranking how easy or hard certain activities are to accomplish)
  • Shaping (training healthy behaviors)
  • Reward and persuasion
  • Behavior contract (signing an agreement with family and friends to reinforce healthy behaviors)
  • Life area assessment (identifying goals for desired future success)

In each session, clients are able to practice these skills through behavioral experiments, which help solidify the information, provide experiential learning, model active choices and offer real-time coaching from the therapist. Additionally, by practicing in session, potential barriers can be identified and problem-solved with the therapist’s help.

Learn more about Behavior Therapies offered at CFI…



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