When someone becomes depressed, many of their activities function as avoidance and escape from aversive thoughts, feelings or situations. Depression therefore occurs when a person develops a narrow range of passive behaviours. As a result, someone with depression engages less frequently in pleasant or satisfying activities and obtains less positive reinforcement than someone without depression.
40 years ago the first behavioural treatment for depression was described by Lewinsohn et al. Many successful trials were done which somehow got forgotten with the advent on CBT in the 1980s.
Behavioural Activation (BA) focuses on activity scheduling to encourage patients to approach activities that they are avoiding. It focuses on encouraging people to take part in meaningful activities that are linked to their core values. It helps people find out which activities make them feel better. Patients are also taught how to analyse the unintended consequences of their ways of responding, including inactivity and rumination.
A recent paper published in the Lancet by Richards et al at University of Exeter studied 440 people with depression. They were randomised into 2 groups – one received BA and the other received CBT. They found that BA, a simpler psychological treatment than CBT, can be delivered by junior mental health workers with less intensive and costly training, with no lesser effect than CBT. Hence, effective psychological therapy for depression can be delivered without the need for costly and highly trained professionals.
Professor David Richards says:
“Effectively treating depression at low cost is a global priority.
Our finding is the most robust evidence yet that Behavioural Activation is just as effective as CBT, meaning an effective workforce could be trained much more easily and cheaply without any compromise on the high level of quality.
This is an exciting prospect for reducing waiting times and improving access to high-quality depression therapy worldwide, and offers hope for countries who are currently struggling with the impact of depression on the health of their peoples and economies.”
UK is one of those countries.