Open Trial of Brief Behavioral Activation Psychotherapy for Depression in an Integrated Veterans Affairs Primary Care Setting

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Objective: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is highly prevalent and impairing and highly likely to present in primary care settings. Recent efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have sought to integrate mental health services into primary care settings, leading to new specialty pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy treatment options for primary care patients. However, little is known about the effectiveness of these new services in primary care patients with MDD. The present study investigated the effectiveness of a brief, easy-to-administer, evidence-based psychotherapy behavioral activation in an integrated mental health/primary care setting in a southeastern VA medical center during the first year of the program.

Method: Thirty-five veterans with MDD (DSM-IV criteria) completed an initial clinical intake, were given the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview, and began a 4-week behavioral activation program. Patients also completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) at intake, posttreatment, and at 1-month follow-up. The study was conducted from November 2009 to November 2010.

Results: Sixty percent (n = 21) of patients completed the brief behavioral activation. Treatment completers demonstrated significant reductions in symptoms of both anxiety and depression on the HADS at posttreatment (t values > 5.2, P values < .001, d values > 1.16, g values > 1.02) and follow-up (t values > 4.0, P values < .01, d values > 1.74, g values > 1.67) when compared to pretreatment levels.

Conclusions: The present findings support the use of behavioral activation as an effective treatment for patients with MDD in a primary care setting. These findings suggest that new integrated primary care settings should incorporate behavioral activation to offer brief, evidence-based treatments that provide reliable symptom reductions in addition to possible reductions in treatment needs and better management of related physical health conditions.

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(4):doi:10.4088/PCC.11m01136

Submitted: January 10, 2011; accepted March 7, 2011.

Published online: July 21, 2011 (doi:10.4088/PCC.11m01136).

Corresponding author: Daniel F. Gros, PhD, Mental Health Service 116, Ralph H. Johnson VAMC, 109 Bee St, Charleston, SC 29401 (

Prim Care Companion CNS Disord 2011;13(4):doi:10.4088/PCC.11m01136