Activity scheduling is an attractive treatment for depression because it is relatively uncomplicated, time-efficient and does not require complex skills. Activity scheduling is a behavioral treatment of depression in which patients learn to monitor their mood and daily activities, and how to increase the number of pleasant activities and to increase positive interactions with their environment. This treatment was developed about three decades ago because it was evident that depressed patients find fewer activities pleasant, engage in pleasant activities less frequent and obtain therefore less positive reinforcement than other individuals.
Researcher form the department of clinical psychology of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, The Netherlands did a meta-analysis to examine the effects of activity scheduling on depression, on the relative effects of activity scheduling compared to other treatments and on the longer term effects. Their literature search produced 16 studies with a total of 780 subjects. In four studies subjects were recruited from clinical settings. In only five studies the participating subjects had to meet diagnostic criteria for depressive disorder, the other studies included subjects who scored high on a severity rating scale for depression or used other definitions. Activity scheduling was compared to other psychological treatments. Activity scheduling was compared to cognitive therapy in 10 studies.
They concluded that activity scheduling is effective in the treatment of depression and equally effective as cognitive therapy also at follow-up periods up to 6 months.
The limitations of this review were:
1. number of studies was small
2. studies used very small sample sizes
3. only one study compared with antidepressants
4. the quality of the studies was not always optimal
5. few studies used clinical samples
It is remarkable that activity scheduling received so little attention. Since activity scheduling is as effective as other psychological treatments for depression it is possible that the effects of treatment are achieved by common factors such as the intensive relationship between patients and therapist, the expectation of the patient of being cured, the ritual of the therapy, and the presentation of a rationale. Advantages of activity scheduling is that it is simple and easy to understand, no need of complex skills, and time efficient.
If you want to know what activity scheduling is and you don’t want to waste to much time before starting some exercise or looking for a therapist, please have a look at this excellent blog on Finding Optimism. There is also a recent article in cooperation with zen habits about Top 42 Exercise Hacks. Besides there is much more about fighting depressed mood in different ways on this blog.
Informative links on this subject:
More Evidence for Antidepressant Properties of Exercise