Background: Depression is a common, disabling condition for which psychological treatments are recommended. Behavioural activation has attracted increased interest in recent years. It has been over 5 years since our meta-analyses summarised the evidence supporting and this systematic review updates those findings and examines moderators of treatment effect.
Method: Randomised trials of behavioural activation for depression versus controls or anti-depressant medication were identified using electronic database searches, previous reviews and reference lists. Data on symptom level and study level moderators were extracted and analysed using meta-analysis, sub-group analysis and meta-regression respectively.
Results: Twenty six randomised controlled trials including 1524 subjects were included in this meta-analysis. A random effects meta-analysis of symptom level post treatment showed behavioural activation to be superior to controls (SMD -0.74 CI -0.91 to -0.56, k = 25, N = 1088) and medication (SMD -0.42 CI -0.83 to-0.00, k = 4, N = 283). Study quality was low in the majority of studies and follow- up time periods short. There was no indication of publication bias and subgroup analysis showed limited association between moderators and effect size.
Conclusions: The results in this meta-analysis support and strengthen the evidence base indicating Behavioural Activation is an effective treatment for depression. Further high quality research with longer term follow-up is needed to strengthen the evidence base.