Behavioural activation treatment for depression in individuals with neurological conditions: a systematic review Academic Article uri icon


  • Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness of behavioural activation interventions for people with neurological conditions with comorbid depression, and explore content and adaptations. Data sources: PsycINFO, MEDLINE, CINAHL, AMED, and EMBASE databases were searched on the 19 November 2019. Reference lists of selected full-texts were screened by title. Review methods: 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. Results: 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. Conclusion: 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. Review registration: PROSPERO 2018, CRD42018102604.

publication date

  • March 1, 2020