Suzanne Welstead, 24 Sinclair Street, Guelph, Ontario, N1L 1R6, CANADA
Please call (519) 994-3327 to schedule an appointment

Thought of the Month

January 2015: The Behavioural Activation Approach To Depression

     According to Statistics Canada (2012), the most common type of mood disorder that Canadians will experience is a major depressive episode with 4.7% of the population who are aged 15 and older meeting the criteria for it.  Even though there are many people who struggle with this mood disorder, there is still much we have to learn about how depression operates within each individual.  Many health and fitness gurus are familiar with the saying, "The mind gives up before the body".  I was reminded of this phrase when I was considering the range of strategies available for working with depression because so many of them emphasize the mind.

     Over the years, I have become more aware of how important an active, rather than a passive, approach to depression can be.  Since depression can overtake and distort our thought processes, it can be difficult to break out of the negative thought patterns that serve only to perpetuate a low mood.  Cognitive behavioural therapy, which is well-supported by research, focuses on changing the way people think about themselves, the world around them, and the future.  It can be highly effective.  Anti-depressant medication can also be very beneficial for many individuals.  However, nothing works for everyone and the body (or activity) can also be enormously helpful when attempting to shift one's mood.

     The Behavioural Activation approach to treating depression focuses on changing the way in which one behaves in order to reconnect him/her to the naturally occurring rewards of a productive life.  Self-activation is a process of guided activity that works from the outside in to improve one's mood by changing what one does.  Through the accomplishment of several exercises, a person can learn new habits that will allow him/her to cope better with life, whether or not depression is present.  These exercises are designed to increase a person's positive experiences of his/her environment and reduce negative ones.

     The pattern of avoidance, which is common with depression, is a target for change in Behavioural Activation since people can get stuck in this pattern without realizing it.  A person is invited to identify coping strategies that help him/her to respond actively to situations or feelings that make him/her uncomfortable.  These include self-soothing behaviours, such as going for a walk, listening to pleasant music, exercising, and spending time with supportive friends.  The consistent replacement of behaviours that are making it difficult to end depression with alternative actions is essential to Behavioural Activation therapy.  Leaving behind avoidance, and getting back on TRAC (Trigger, Response, Alternative Coping) is a central component of Behavioural Activation. By practicing constructive routines repetitively, an individual can gradually begin to live in a different way that leads to an improved mood and functional mindset.  In this way, depression is slowly dealt with on a daily basis and moment by moment.

     In a study that was published by Sona Dimidjian and her colleagues in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2006), it was found that the efficacy of Behavioural Activation therapy was found to be comparable to anti-depressant medication for more severely depressed clients, and both significantly outperformed cognitive therapy.  So, if you are trying to find your way out of depression and cognitive therapy has not been useful, you might want to consider utilizing a workbook such as Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time: The New Behavioral Activation Approach to Getting Your Life Back by Micheal Addis and Christopher Martell (2004).  If your mind has been losing in your struggle with depression, your body just might instead hold the key to leading you out of it. 

Suzanne Welstead

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