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This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds A brief BA is all really about looking at what matters to the young person. So finding out what their values are, what their kind of guiding principles are in their life. And actually, that might be quite difficult for young people to figure out. But that’s part of our work is doing that together and actually using that information to think about how does that map onto how they’re spending their time on a day to day basis.

Skip to 0 minutes and 39 seconds And then moving towards making small but practical, positive changes in how they’re spending their time to try and get more of what matters to them into their daily life with the idea that that is going to boost their mood and help them get more out of life.

The role of behaviour in the CBT model of depression

In Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), we use the following diagram to make sense of people’s experiences, and guide intervention. It’s assumed that thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all related, and changes in one area have knock on effects on the others.

A cycle with the words 'Thoughts', 'Feelings' and 'Behaviours' pointing clockwise and anti-

Often, it’s easiest to start with behaviour as that’s the part that’s observable by others, and can be simplest to change. Sometimes young people don’t always recognise the changes in their behaviour until it is pointed out by others, which means parents, professionals and other people in contact with them can be well placed to help.

A specific treatment targeting behaviour change in depression is called Behavioural Activation (BA). There’s lots of research that shows changing behaviour can improve mood in adults, and there is some evidence to say this works with teenagers too.

In this video, Dr Laura Pass provides an introduction to Brief BA for adolescent depression, and you can read about the pilot work (1) found at the bottom of the Step.

A key aim in BA is to increase positive reinforcement in a person’s life. Positive reinforcement is a consequence that happens after a behaviour that is rewarding, and makes it more likely you’ll repeat the behaviour again. A good example is getting a salary for a paid job – most people wouldn’t continue going to work every day if they weren’t getting paid for it.

Can you think of another example? Share your thoughts in the discussion below and take a moment to read each others. If you relate to a comment someone else has made or found it interesting, let them know by liking or replying to it. You can also filter comments to see oldest, newest or most liked and you can find your own by selecting ‘Your comments’.


1) Pass, L., Lejuez, C. W., & Reynolds, S. (2017). Brief Behavioural Activation (Brief BA) for Adolescent Depression: A Pilot Study. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 1-13

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This video is from the free online course:

Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

University of Reading