What Is Behavioral Activation?

Behavioral activation (BA) is used in behavioral therapy to help treat depression. It is based on applied behavior analysis psychological model of behavior change. BA is a very personal treatment plan and can be different for each individual. It is described as, “a structured, brief therapeutic approach that aims to (a) increase engagement in adaptive activities (which often are those associated with the experience of pleasure or mastery), (b) decrease engagement in activities that maintain depression or increase risk for depression, and (c) solve problems that limit access to reward or that maintain or increase aversive control” (Dimidjian et al., 2011).

The idea behind BA treatment for depression is to allow those living with depressive symptoms to learn to cope with the negativity. This in turn, helps them increase positive awareness through the development of personal goals with short-term, medium-term, and long-term life goals. It focuses on behavioral changes in one’s daily life. It can involve helping one plan more activities they enjoy doing, helping one develop social skills, or tracking emotions and activities.


Techniques for Behavioral Activation

  • Self-monitoring activities and mood

  • Activity scheduling or structuring

  • Problem-solving

  • Social skill training

  • Hierarchy construction (ranking how easy certain activities are to accomplish)

  • Shaping (training healthy behaviors)

  • Reward

  • Behavior contract (signing a contract with friends and family so that they will only reinforce healthy behaviors)

  • Life area assessment (determining in which arenas of life one desires success)


A major aspect of behavioral activation is positive reinforcement. This means that the way we respond to people with depression can have big impacts on their mood and health. We all have plenty of things on our minds at all times, but try to think about how you respond to both healthy and unhealthy behaviors of the ones we love. Reinforcing your friend’s healthy behaviors can be beneficial to their treatment.


To work with a therapist who is experienced in behavioral activation, click here.