Learning theories propose that depression is the result of losing touch with sources of positive reinforcement: falling into habits of inactivity (or the wrong kinds of activity) lead to a lowering of mood. Once people feel depressed they may lack motivation, become less active, experience less positive reinforcement, and the cycle repeats or exacerbates. A behavioral approach to overcoming the vicious cycle of depression is to increase one’s level of activity even in the absence of feelings of motivation. This approach is called behavioral activation (BA) and there is strong evidence that it is an effective treatment for depression (Ekers et al, 2014), with equivalent effect sizes to treatments such as cognitive therapy (Jacobson et al, 1996). Modern approaches to BA include Martell, Addis & Jacobson’s package Depression in context: Strategies for guided action (2001), and Lejuez, Hopko & Hopko’s package Brief Behavioral Activation Treatment For Depression (BATD: 2001).
Different behavioral activation protocols include a variety of treatment components, but all contain steps of activity monitoring and activity scheduling (Kanter et al, 2010). The function of activity scheduling within BA is to increase contact with sources of positive reinforcement in the individual’s environment. While early forms of BA focused on scheduling pleasant events, other variants of BA have begun to use alternative criteria for choosing activation targets (Kanter et al, 2010): Beck et al (1979) recommended targeting behaviors which resulted in sense of mastery (accomplishment) as well as pleasant events; Martell et al (2001) encourages the scheduling of activities as alternatives to avoidance and rumination; and Lejuez et al (2001) encourage a focus on scheduling activities that are in line with a client’s values.
This Behavioral Activation Activity Planning Diary is a worksheet designed for activity scheduling within BA. This diary is in a 7-day format and includes sections for: recording planned activity in the morning / afternoon / evening; prompts to help clients to record the most helpful kinds of information.
“Scheduling activities (planning in advance where, when & how you will do them) makes it much more likely that you will carry them out. Now that we have spent some time thinking about the activities that you want to try, it is time to schedule some activities for the next week. Use the activity planning diary and write down the activities that you will do, and when you will do them.”
Clients are more likely to engage in an activity if the plan is specific about what the behavior is, where it will take place, and who it will be done with. An additional optional step is to spent time considering in advance any obstacles and how they might be overcome.
Ekers, D., Webster, L., Van Straten, A., Cuijpers, P., Richards, D., & Gilbody, S. (2014). Behavioural activation for depression; an update of meta-analysis of effectiveness and sub group analysis. PloS one, 9(6).
Jacobson, N. S., Dobson, K. S., Truax, P. A., Addis, M. E., Koerner, K., Gollan, J. K., … & Prince, S. E. (1996). A component analysis of cognitive-behavioral treatment for depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(2), 295.
Kanter, J. W., Manos, R. C., Bowe, W. M., Baruch, D. E., Busch, A. M., & Rusch, L. C. (2010). What is behavioral activation?: A review of the empirical literature. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(6), 608-620.
Lejuez, C. W., Hopko, D. R., & Hopko, S. D. (2001). A brief behavioral activation treatment for depression: Treatment manual. Behavior Modification, 25, 255−286.