To evaluate the effectiveness of behavioural activation interventions for people with neurological conditions with comorbid depression, and explore content and adaptations.
PsycINFO, MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED, and EMBASE databases were searched on the 19 November 2019. Reference lists of selected full-texts were screened by title.
We included peer-reviewed studies published in English that used behavioural activation for treatment of depression in adults with a neurological condition. Single-case reports, reviews, and grey literature were excluded. Methodological quality was assessed by two authors independently, and quality was appraised using Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklists.
From 2714 citations, 10 articles were included comprising 590 participants. Behavioural activation was used to treat depression in people with dementia ( n = 4), stroke ( n = 3), epilepsy ( n = 1), Parkinson’s disease ( n = 1), and brain injury ( n = 1). Sample size ranged from 4 to 105 participants. There were seven randomized controlled studies; however, no studies compared behavioural activation to an alternative psychological therapy. The effect sizes varied between small and large in the studies where effect size could be calculated ( d = 0.24–1.7). Methodological quality of the included studies was variable. Intervention components were identifying and engaging in pleasurable activities, psychoeducation, and problem-solving. Adaptations included delivering sessions via telephone, delivering interventions via primary caregivers, and giving psychoeducation to caregivers.
The effectiveness of behavioural activation in randomized controlled trials varied from small to large ( d = 0.24–1.7) in reducing depression. The content of behavioural activation was comparable to established treatment manuals. Adaptations appeared to support individuals to engage in therapy.
PROSPERO 2018, CRD42018102604.