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Behavioral Activation and Depression

May 28, 2024

Woman sitting on a therapist couch in Manhattan learning how to deal with her depression.

One of the prominent psychological interventions for depression is behavioral activation (BA). Behavioral activation is a therapeutic approach that focuses on increasing engagement in positive and rewarding activities to alleviate depressive symptoms and improve overall well-being.

What is Behavioral Activation?

Woman smiling with a piece of fruit next to her. Depression and behavioral activation can help you.

Behavioral activation operates on the principle that depression is often associated with a lack of positive reinforcement from your environment. Individuals with depression may engage in withdrawal and avoid activities that could potentially be rewarding due to a pessimistic view of the world and themselves. This negative reinforcement cycle perpetuates the depressive symptoms and further reduces engagement in life. Behavioral activation aims to break this cycle by encouraging individuals to identify and participate in activities that bring joy, pleasure, and a sense of accomplishment.

What is the process?

The process of behavioral activation typically starts with an assessment of the individual’s current behaviors and their impact on their mood. The therapist works collaboratively with the person to identify specific activities that have been avoided or neglected due to depression. These activities can range from simple daily tasks to more complex and meaningful pursuits. Once the activities are identified, the therapist helps the individual set achievable goals and develop a plan to gradually reintegrate these activities into their daily life.

Manhattan woman participating in depression therapy. Behavioral activation may work for you.

As the person engages in previously avoided activities, they may experience an initial increase in distress or discomfort. This reaction is normal and is known as “behavioral activation paradox.” The paradox arises because depression often becomes a coping mechanism to avoid negative emotions. By engaging in activities, even if they initially cause distress, individuals can experience positive emotions and a sense of accomplishment, leading to a reduction in depressive symptoms.

Behavioral activation also emphasizes the importance of environmental factors in maintaining depression. The individual is encouraged to assess their environment and make necessary changes to create a more supportive and rewarding context for their activities. This may involve seeking social support, improving interpersonal relationships, or altering the physical environment.

Who can benefit?

Compared to other therapeutic approaches, behavioral activation’s structured and straightforward nature makes it suitable for a wide range of individuals, including those who may find more complex therapies challenging to engage with.

Group of Manhattan women sitting outside and working in their journals.

It is essential to note that behavioral activation is not a standalone treatment for severe depression or other mental health conditions. In severe cases, it may be combined with other therapies or medication to achieve optimal outcomes. 

Behavioral activation is a promising and evidence-based intervention for depression. By focusing on increasing engagement in positive activities, behavioral activation aims to break the negative reinforcement cycle that perpetuates depressive symptoms. By gradually reintegrating meaningful and rewarding activities into their lives, individuals can experience a reduction in depressive symptoms and an improvement in overall well-being.


Ready to break free from negative thoughts and live the life you’ve always wanted? Start therapy for depression in Manhattan, Brooklyn, or anywhere in New York with Manhattan Wellness. Embrace a transformative journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Get support in creating empowering habits, using positive language, and appreciating your uniqueness. Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Contact Manhattan Wellness today or email us at
  2. Schedule your first appointment with one of our Manhattan therapists
  3. Embark on this empowering path to a confident, happier you


Our therapists recognize that discovering your “enough” is a journey. And it can become even more complex when the inner critic interferes, giving rise to additional challenges. We provide a range of services to ensure you receive the essential support, care, and guidance to achieve your goals. Our offerings include specialized support for women, anxiety treatment, and dating therapy. Along with services for college students, maternal mental health, body image therapy, and much more. If you feel dissatisfied with your current life and are seeking meaningful changes, let’s have a conversation about it.

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