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For many therapists, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the go-to method for treating depression and anxiety — studies have shown it to be superior to other types of therapy for those disorders. A recent study, however, elevates a simpler type of therapy to the same effectiveness level.

It’s known technically as Behavioral Activation (BA), and it’s focused on action rather than thought. In this type of therapy, depressed patients are encouraged to accept that they’re depressed and then do the activities that bring them fulfillment anyway. As they act, depression lessens.

On the other hand, CBT teaches patients to challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to depression.

Researchers describe BA as an “outside-in” approach, whereas CBT is an “inside-out” approach. BA works to change actions then thoughts, while CBT works to change thoughts then actions.

In the recent study comparing the two, outcomes were the same after a year of treatment: About two-thirds of study participants reported depression symptoms easing by at least 50 percent.

The reason the world is paying attention is money: BA is a simpler therapy that therapists with less training (and therefore lower pay) can conduct. Researchers hope a spread of BA can get treatment out to more people without putting additional strain on government-funded health insurance or on personal budgets.

In my practice, behavioral activation has always been a part of my holistic approach to healing: We talk about how behaviors contribute to problems and develop plans for future action.

Depression affects so many people and goes untreated so often that I’m glad to see methods emerging that can spread treatment further.

Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.

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