Religious Behavioral Intervention Reduces Depression in College Students

Colleges today are faced with many obstacles that can limit treatment to depressed college students, such as budget restrictions, time constraints and too few clinicians. In order to determine if an alternative intervention, the behavioral activation of religious behaviors (BARB), would be an effective tool for treating depression in college students, Maria E. A. Armento of the Department of Psychology at the University of Tennessee, enrolled students from the university into a two-week pilot program and evaluated their progress. “The current study involved direct manipulation of religious behaviors to assess the impact on depression symptoms in college students,” said Armento. “Behavioral activation therapy systematically increases overt behaviors to expose patients to reinforcing environmental contingencies and corresponding improvements in thoughts, mood, and quality of life.” Previous research in this area has shown that this approach provides long-term benefits, with depressed clients experiencing relief even two years after the intervention.

Religion has been proven to have a positive effect on psychological well-being, increasing quality of life, hope and self-esteem, and decreasing feelings of shame and anxiety. The study focused on providing education about depression, identifying spiritual beliefs and motivating clients to become religiously active. The participants were encouraged to pray, read the Bible, join a church group, meditate and be mindful by taking walks and spending quiet time to reflect. Armento found that the BARB group realized increased religious attitudes and behaviors and had developed better coping techniques than the control group. Additionally, participants saw a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety after completing the two-week program.

Armento also pointed out the format of BARB appealed to all faiths. “Indeed, in this study the BARB intervention was well received by an individual self-defined as atheist, who by expressing a willingness to explore opportunities for spiritual exposure developed fundamental Christian philosophies along with improved affect. So the BARB strategy contrasts interventions introducing religious components only applicable to specific religious affiliations or general religious or spiritual components that all are expected to embrace despite differences in beliefs.” She added, “This unique characteristic of BARB may provide a format with increased flexibility that allows clinicians to work with patients based on their unique religious values, facilitate better overall treatment success and patient satisfaction, and perhaps encourage practitioners to be more open to the idea of incorporating religious interventions into their practice.”

Armento, M. E. A., McNulty, J. K., & Hopko, D. R. (2011, December 5). Behavioral Activation of Religious Behaviors (BARB): Randomized Trial With Depressed College Students. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026405

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jay


    December 13th, 2011 at 10:35 PM

    Take the “psychiatry” part out and you’ve got it made. God is the ONLY answer.

  • Mel


    December 14th, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    The problem with this is that college age is when many kids are experimenting with their beliefs and if they have grown up in church then they may consider dropping out for a while. Sad because many of this know very well that this can be such a consolation in a time of hurt yet they choose not to use it to make it through.

  • BEN


    December 15th, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    As much as I would like to believe that religion does help you in things such as these, just including the word ‘religion’ will scare away a lot of youngsters from seeking treatment,don’t you think?

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