This 10-Week Intervention Can Significantly Improve Depression

Psychologist Jerin Lee discusses her new research on the Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment for Depression (BATD).

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | December 17, 2021

A new article published in the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment suggests that a 10-week activity-based treatment for depression, called the Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment for Depression, can significantly reduce the severity of depressive symptoms. It works by aligning a person's behavior with their core values.

I recently spoke with Jerin Lee, a psychologist at the University of Connecticut and lead author of the research, to discuss these findings in more detail. Here is a summary of our conversation.

What inspired you to investigate the topic of depression treatment and what did you find?

Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment for Depression (BATD) is an effective therapy for depression; however, most studies looked at specific populations (e.g., cancer patients, inpatients), and we noticed a gap in the literature where there was limited research examining the effectiveness of BATD in a general population. There are also inconsistent findings regarding the impact of BATD on other psychological factors such as anxiety. Thus, we wanted to bridge the gap in research by examining the extent to which a 10-week version of BATD (i.e., BATD-Revised) would affect variables that are widely associated with depression such as anxiety, dysfunctional attitudes, and mindfulness among a general community population.

Can you give a brief description of the Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment for Depression?

People with depression may find that it becomes increasingly difficult to engage with their routines and activities that were previously pleasant or rewarding. When people withdraw and isolate, they lose opportunities to be rewarded and reinforced with pleasant activities (e.g., positive social interactions, experiences of competency), which can exacerbate their depression. BATD and BATD-R are effective behavioral-based therapies that focus on increasing engagement with meaningful and values-based activities through strategies such as activity scheduling and self-monitoring to counter depressive symptoms. There is a strong emphasis on clarifying values (e.g., being a caring friend, being physically healthy, talking to someone about your problems and feelings, being artistic and creative) to guide the selection of meaningful activities. For example, for someone who values being an attentive and caring friend, activities could involve "Texting my friend," "Checking in with my friend once per week," "Letting my friend(s) know I am thinking about them twice per week."

What are the practical takeaways from your research for someone struggling with depression?

Our research suggests that individuals struggling with depression may benefit from BATD-R. If BATD-R is not accessible, our research suggests that engaging in meaningful activities based on your values can significantly reduce depressive symptoms. Our research suggests that engaging in such activities could reduce dysfunctional attitudes, or negative thoughts about oneself, the outside world, and the future, which is a risk factor for depression. Engaging in activities could also increase mindfulness (receptive attention to and awareness of internal and external experiences as they occur), which is a protective factor for depression.

Do you have any words of wisdom for people who don't feel like their depression will ever improve?

Research and clinical work suggest that your behaviors can influence your thoughts, feelings, and other behaviors. Depressive symptoms may seem insurmountable, like a downward spiral that pulls you into a vortex of hopelessness and sadness. But every action and intention (no matter how big or small) counts. When you engage in activities (e.g., meaningfully connecting with friends, creating art, exercising) that bring you joy and align with your values, it can result in an "upward spiral" that can pull you out of the vortex. The effects of the positive activities will compound and there IS hope! Please do not give up. Of course, treatments are not a one-size-shoe-fits-all, so it absolutely valid and understandable if you want to seek out or incorporate alternatives treatments like medication and other psychotherapy strategies.

How does your research connect with, and inform, other research on depression treatments?

Our research builds upon existing research by providing more evidence for the effectiveness of BATD-R, especially among a community sample. Additionally, our research suggests that BATD-R not only targets behaviors but may also indirectly target thoughts. In other words, targeting negative attitudes about the self, world, and future, as well as increasing a sense of being fully in the present moment may be especially helpful for individuals struggling with depression who are in BATD-R.

How might your research inform clinical efforts to improve outcomes among individuals diagnosed with depression?

BATD-R is understood as a significantly behaviorally-based intervention. However, our research indicates that BATD-R may also impact thoughts and present-minded awareness, suggesting that BATD-R has multifaceted benefits! This is exciting, especially as the field of mental health is moving toward gaining a more holistic understanding of mental health treatment.

Do you have plans for follow-up research? Where would you like to see the research on BATD and BATD-R go in the future?

For now, we do not have plans for follow-up research, but we would like this research to serve as a foundation for future longitudinal or experimental studies testing the roles of dysfunctional attitudes and mindfulness in BATD-R.