The Role Of Behavioral Activation In Treating Mental Health Conditions: FAQs Addressed

The connection between thoughts and behaviors has always fascinated me; that’s why I have wanted to become a psychologist for a long time. I wanted to study and know more about human behavior and understand their thoughts and actions. I want to go deeper into treating misbehaviors and know what triggers them. I knew early on that the best profession for me to explore that connection, so I worked hard to make sure that I could enter an exemplary psychology program in college.

When it happened, I felt like I had won the lottery. I was eager to prove to everyone that I was cut out to become a psychologist and be the best one in the field. However, I just realized that I would have to go through many practical activities before that. I was not aware of the challenges that I had to face because I was only focusing on the good sides of that dream. I never knew that it was going to be hard and exhausting at some point.

Dipping My Toes In The Psychology Pool

My first practical experience involved offering free counseling at the university hospital in my second year. It was a tradition for the students in our department to visit the hospital on campus and talk to patients and their loved ones. After all, many people with physical illnesses are prone to mental health issues, especially if they get diagnosed with a grave condition.

I honestly thought that this whole ordeal was easy, and soon I could get a hold of it. I thought that since my desire to become the best psychiatrist, I would only focus more of my attention, time, and energy on learning all about mental health. But apparently, I was wrong. There is so much about mental health conditions that I didn’t prepare myself for. I never thought that studying it would open new mental and emotional strains on me as well.

A woman holding her face with both hands, staring blankly in space. She appears to be deep in thought or experiencing sadness.
Source: pixabay.com

One of the first individuals I counseled was Jaimee, a 16-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis and ADHD. When I saw her, I initially thought she was much younger than that. Her body was so small, and she often needed a blood transfusion, but the way she snapped at her parents and some nurses in the ward made me realize that we were closer in age than I assumed.

The attending physician introduced me to Jaimee and her parents that day. I shook hands with the adults, but Jaimee did not even look at my extended hand. Despite that, I smiled at her. I might not have years of counseling experience, but I have enough knowledge about dealing with stubborn kids. I visited Jaimee in the ward twice a week and observed her behavior.

I quickly understood that Jaimee had to be pulled out of regular school because her illness required her to stay at home or in the hospital most of the time. Her snappy attitude was most likely not because she was evil but because she could not find a way out of her situation. She’s dealing with emotional turmoil that not even her parents can explain. Of course, they tried to connect with her in all ways possible but unfortunately failed to do that.

I talked to her parents about it in private. I told them that perhaps Jaimee needs an expert to check up on her so they can know what she might be dealing with mentally. They agreed and decided to bring a psychologist to the ward to figure out Jaimee’s mental condition.

When Jaimee found out about it, she reacted violently. It was evident that she thought a psychological evaluation was for the “freaks” – her words, not mine. She was so against the idea of consulting a mental health professional because of the stigma. She has this ideology that mental health professionals will only take so much of her time and will not care to treat her. However, her father put his foot down and snapped back at her, causing Jaimee to shut up. She had no choice but to talk to the psychologist and answer any questions.

It turned out that Jaimee had depression. The diagnosis checked out, considering she had been dealing with cystic fibrosis for a long time. She was so anxious and concerned about her physical health that she could only express it through rage. She admitted that she was having negative thoughts and that she would die anytime soon. That fear took advantage of her and made her think that she was not going to recover from her situation. 

If I had to deal with an incurable disease, I would have been depressed, too. Nevertheless, it was no excuse for having an awful disposition in life. The psychologist eventually prescribed behavioral activation therapy to Jaimee.

What Is Behavioral Activation Therapy?

 Behavioral Activation (BA) is the end goal for most people getting cognitive-behavioral therapy. This treatment is mostly offered to depressed individuals who need help reducing their avoidant behavior.

A blonde woman with unkept hair staring at something or someone.
Source: pixabay.com

Who Needs CBT?

 Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is essential for people who deal with a broad range of mental disorders.

Who Created The BA Therapy?

 Christopher Martell and the company created behavioral activation in 2001.

What Are BA Strategies?

  • Monitor behavioral changes on your own
  • Figure out what aspect of your life you want to change
  • Make sure that your loved ones will behave well around you.
  • Create a schedule of daily or weekly activities
  • Structure every activity you can think of
  • Learn problem-solving skills
  • Improve social skills
  • Arrange activities from the easiest to the most challenging
  • Embrace healthy actions
  • Think of how you can reward yourself

How Does Behavioral Psychology Treat Depression?

 Behavioral psychologists typically treat depression with the belief that it is a learned mental disorder, that it is not innate. Thus, they help sufferers unlearn their depressive symptoms.

What Is The Common Use Of This Treatment Strategy?

Behavioral activation is commonly used for treatment for depression. Just like cognitive therapy, behavioral activation for depression also works to help patients understand the connection between their thoughts and emotions.

What Is A Behavioral Technique?

 A behavioral technique is used by therapists when they perform cognitive-behavioral therapy cbt. One process involves gradually exposing patients to their fear but putting them in a safe environment to eventually learn to overcome this particular fear.

Is The Mental Illness A Learned Behavior?

 Yes, depression is a learned behavior, according to behavioral psychologists. However, some experts believe that depression is caused by a combination of stressors in an individual’s environment and a lack of personal coping skills.

 

A woman happily listening to music using headphones.
Source: pixabay.com

What Kind Of Music Is Good For Mental Health?

Rock is the primary genre that individuals listen to when they feel good. However, for a deep, relaxed state, improved mood, and enhanced motivation, clothing and instrumental music are advisable. Also, pop music has strong and powerful lyrics and also helps with depression.

Is Mental Health Disorder In The Genes?

 According to studies, 40% of people living with depression have this mental disorder because of genetics.

Is Mental Health  Condition Learned Helplessness?

Yes, depression is learned helplessness, considering you experience stressful situations repeatedly.

What Does Behavior Therapy Treat?

 Depression.

What Happens In Exposure Therapy?

 When you do exposure therapy, you can expect the therapist to simulate your fears and make you face them. The more you get exposed to your fears, the less you worry about them.

How Successful Is CBT In The Treatment of Social Anxiety?

 CBT is so successful in treating social anxiety that every patient tends to feel less anxious when the sessions are over.

A woman writing in her journal in the park.
Source: pixabay.com

What Is Activity Scheduling?

Activity scheduling is a behavioral activation technique that encourages individuals to do more activities every day.

Final Thoughts

The psychologist happened to be a certified behavioral therapist, so she could treat Jaimee. The original plan was for the psychologist to visit her at the hospital every week for the first two months, but Jaimee said that she did not feel like the environment there would help her. In the end, it was agreed that she could go to the psychologist’s office at the university. It would be a short walk from the hospital, so it could not take a time toll on her health.

When I visited Jaimee a few months after that, I was surprised to see her smiling at me. She was so different from the teenager that I met in the beginning. Gone was the dark aura surrounding her. Although Jaimee was still not allowed to go home anytime soon, she worked hard to stop feeling depressed about it. She even picked up two new hobbies – knitting and chess – which made her feel productive.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are The 3 Basic Approaches To Treating Mental Health Disorders?

Psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle change – these three are often used in combination in crafting a treatment plan for depression. Clinicians, of course, customize the specifics of each of the three approaches according to the specific needs, personality, circumstances, and preferences of the patient.

For psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or interpersonal therapy (IPT) are often prescribed to help patients identify and change their negative thought patterns and come up with a healthier coping strategy.

For medication, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed by healthcare professionals to restore the balance of the brain’s neurotransmitters.

For lifestyle change, clinicians encourage shifting to a healthy and balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, and practicing stress management techniques such as breathing exercises, sufficient sleep, and cultivating a supportive social network.

What Factors Facilitate Mental Health Issues?

There are multiple behavioral factors that can contribute to the development and exacerbation of mental health conditions like depression. Social isolation (withdrawal from interpersonal relationships) can intensify feelings of loneliness and contribute to the onset of depressive symptoms.

Avoidance of activities and hobbies that were once enjoyed can also increase contribute to a lack of pleasure and trigger a negative mood.

Excessive alcohol consumption, substance abuse, and other unhealthy coping mechanisms can increase the risk and worsen this mental health condition.

Poor sleeping habits (irregular sleep patterns and insufficient sleep) can disrupt the brain’s natural mood regulation. Moreover, a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical activity can negatively affect both physical and mental well-being.

How Does The BA System Work?

Behavioral Activation System (BAS) is a psychological concept of a motivational system in the brain; it is associated with approach behaviours and pursuit of rewards. It plays a huge role in regulating emotions, motivation, and goal-directed behavior.

The system works by detecting environmental cues that signal potential positive outcomes or rewards, which leads to increased activity, engagement, and positive effects. The BAS is associated with feelings of anticipation, enthusiasm, and pleasure. In terms of depression, the BAS may be underactive, which results in to decrease in engagement with rewarding activities and diminished positive emotions.

Behavioral therapy aims to simulate the BAS by encouraging the individual to engage in meaningful and pleasurable activities, thereby improving positive reinforcement, mood, and motivation. Meta analysis studies have also supported the effectiveness of using the Behavioral Activation System as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan for depression.

Is BA Effective?

Yes, behavioral activation treatment has been shown to provide effective treatment for depression. Several research studies have shown the effectiveness of activation treatment in reducing the frequency and intensity of symptoms of depression. This form of therapy focuses on increasing the individual’s engagement in meaningful and rewarding activities, giving people a better chance to experience a sense of mastery, accomplishment, and pleasure.

Moreover, by targeting behavioral patterns and improving positive reinforcement, behavioural activation for depression can counteract the withdrawal cycle. Compared to traditional treatment, it is more straightforward, practical, and brief, making it accessible and a lot more suitable for most patients.

But as with other forms of treatment, it is important to note that the effectiveness of behavioral activation for depression varies depending on the specific person’s circumstances. For best results, clinicians will often still include a combination of treatments, such as medication and therapy.

What Are Good Activities For People With Depression?

Any activity that promotes a sense of accomplishment, connection with others, and pleasure can be beneficial for people suffering from mental health problems like depression.

Simple exercises, such as walking or yoga, can help boost mood and improve overall well-being. Creative outlets such as playing musical instruments, painting, and writing can provide a channel for self-expression and an avenue for cathartic release.

Social activities and hobbies can also help combat feelings of isolation and provide a sense of connection to others.

Self-care activities, such as relaxing baths, meditation, etc., can help nurture self-worth and a positive mindset.

Ultimately, the choice of activities must be personalized to suit the needs and preferences of the individual.