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An Overview of Behavioral Activation for PTSD


Updated March 26, 2012

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Behavioral activation treatment was originally designed to treat people with depression. It is focused on increasing your level of physical activity, with a particular focus on activities that you find rewarding and positive. Behavioral activation has been found to be very effective in reducing symptoms of depression.

Recently, it has been examined as a treatment for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This makes sense, as there is some overlap in symptoms between PTSD and depression, and many people with PTSD also suffer from depression. Listed below are some articles that provide basic information on behavioral activation and how it can be used to address PTSD symptoms.

PTSD and Depression

Depression is one disorder that most commonly occurs among people with PTSD. In fact, studies have found that almost half of people who have had PTSD have also experienced depression. Given this, it would make sense to use a treatment such as behavioral activation, which has the potential to address both the symptoms of PTSD and depression. This article presents some basic information on depression, as well as ways in which both disorders may be connected.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Primer

Behavioral activation is considered to be an essential part of cognitive behavioral therapy. If you are unfamiliar with cognitive behavioral therapy, you can learn more about this specific treatment approach in this article.

How to Get Started with Behavioral Activation

When people feel down, they may be less likely to do the things they enjoy in life or lose track of their goals. Behavioral activation is a simple way of getting back in touch with those things you find enjoyable and pleasurable. This article presents some step-by-step instructions on how you can get started on behavioral activation today.

Increasing the Effectiveness of Behavioral Activation

Although behavioral activation is a pretty basic coping skill, it can be difficult to do. Many people with PTSD may have a hard time getting started. They may experience low motivation, fatigue or even be afraid to leave their house. However, there are some things you can do to make your behavioral activation more effective. Some tips for "super-charging" behavioral activation are described in this article.

Reducing Avoidance Behavior

A central symptom of PTSD is avoidance. Avoidance often occurs in response to trying to limit contact with triggers for anxiety, fear or memories about a traumatic event. As a result, people may lose touch with activities, situations or people they used to enjoy. This isolation can lead to depression, as well as a worsening of certain PTSD symptoms. This article presents some coping skills for breaking down avoidance. By breaking down the tendency to avoid situations, behavioral activation will be easier and you can take control of your life.

A Study on Behavioral Activation for PTSD

Researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, WA provided 11 veterans with PTSD 16 weeks of individual behavioral activation therapy. The veterans worked with the therapists to identify current avoidance behaviors, as well as rewarding positive goals and activities that they would like to pursue. The veterans tracked their progress in completing these goals and activities throughout the treatment. The researchers looked at differences in symptoms, depression and quality of life from the beginning to the end of treatment. They found that behavioral activation had a number of positive effects on the lives of the veterans. Read more about this study and its rationale here.
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  3. Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD)
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  5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for PTSD
  6. Behavioral Activation - Behavioral Activation for PTSD

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