Therapists and their fancy terms for everything. Behavioral activation means you do the thing that you KNOW will help you feel better even if you don’t FUCKING FEEL LIKE IT.
You know, like me and exercise.
Behavioral Activation (BA) is a simpler form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that it doesn’t focus on the thoughts and feelings part of the equation.
In a nutshell, if we carry the body the mind will follow.
Of course we are thinking shitty things and feeling like shit. But THEN, if we don’t do anything about it we think EVEN SHITTIER things and feel even MORE like shit.
(Have I mentioned that brains are assholes? Yeah, that’s a writing topic for another day. But your brain is TOTALLY an asshole.)
The interesting thing is that BA is as effective (and sometimes MORE effective) than CBT.
Christopher Martell (in the article linked above) nails it when he notes that BA targets inertia and avoidance.
And as any therapist will tell you, it is way easier to get someone to START doing something than STOP doing something. So instead of focusing on stopping certain thoughts and feelings, we focus on doing the things we know will help us get better.
Or, as I tell my clients. You are allowed to BE crazy, but you are not allowed to ACT crazy.
I don’t leave out the importance of thoughts and emotions, but that is less the focus when we do action planning. I always discuss what’s going on in the brain, and what we are doing to rewire certain thought, feeling, and behavior patterns. In a nutshell? We are working on retraining the brain to stop being SUCH an asshole all the time.
Does this mean you get pressured into doing things you don’t really want to do? Of course not. But when people go to therapy, at least willingly, it’s because they want to do something different in their lives. The therapist is not in charge of telling the client what to do. Rather, I liken being a therapist to being the person in the passenger seat with the roadmap, helping the driver navigate their route home.
A good counselor is going to bust their butt to help you. But a great counselor realizes that they can’t work harder than their client, or things will never improve.
My job is not to keep a client in therapy into perpetuity. My job is to help them get issues sorted out and get back into their lives. When someone tells me they have made more progress in a month with me than they had in years with someone else, I’m thrilled. That means they came in ready to work their butts off, and I was a good match in helping them do that work. I think we have an ethical obligation to help people move forward, or find them the resources that can.
Some people do take longer in therapy. Sometimes there is a lot to unravel. Sometimes the movements forward are small. Not everyone is kicking ass and taking names in a month. But if we aren’t checking in on what progress and gains they are seeing in their life, helping them read the road, and manage the roadblocks popping up on their journey we are NOT doing our job.
While I would not consider myself a strict BA therapist, I have noticed myself more and more using BA techniques in my private practice. I think, ESPECIALLY with intimacy work, that BA is an incredibly important component.
Love is, ultimately, a behavior.
How we communicate our love, demonstrate our love, and act our love is what makes all the difference in our intimate relationships. And we communicate all these things in our behaviors. My job is to help clients figure out the behaviors that strengthen the relationships and start testing out new behaviors. We tweak, we adapt, we figure out the way around roadblocks. Then they dump their navigator out of the passenger seat and they keep on driving.
And nothing makes my day more than a follow up call or email from telling me they found their way home.
More on Behavioral Activation
If you are a fellow therapist type, here is a cool (by which I mean FREE) PDF behavioral activation treatment manual.
Whether you are a fellow therapist type or someone who wants to try some of this behavioral activation stuff for yourself, here are some worksheet links:
1) Simple behavioral activation worksheet
2) CBT worksheets that focus on the behavioral activation component