Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Depression

cognitive behavioral therapy for depression

It’s completely natural for every one of us to feel sad, angry, restless, and apathetic from time to time. What’s not natural is feeling this way day in and day out.

Recognizing the symptoms of clinical depression is often the biggest roadblock in diagnosing and treating it effectively. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the major symptoms of clinical depression include:


Symptoms Of Clinical Depression

  • Decreased energy levels
  • Feeling hopeless and pessimistic
  • Feeling helpless and worthless
  • Feeling irritable and restless
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Persistent aches and pains
  • Finding it hard to focus on or remember details
  • Thoughts of giving up or ending your life1

More than just being down in the dumps, depression is a serious condition that can affect your physical and mental health. If left untreated, depression may last for months, sometimes even years.2 A key thing to understand is that depression isn’t a sign of weakness or a negative personality. It is a major public health issue that has the potential to be treated.

So, how do you tackle it? Antidepressant medication (ADM) is often prescribed to treat depression; however, it isn’t a cure or long-term solution – there is still a high risk of relapse involved. On the other hand, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy, is a well-established and highly effective way of treating depression, because it works to suppress the symptoms and reduce the chances of a relapse. In case of severe depressive symptoms, a structured combination of both treatment methods is an ideal option.3


What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

CBT is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the relation between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As a blend of cognitive therapy (analyzing what you think) and behavioral therapy (analyzing what you do), CBT believes your negative actions and feelings are the result of current dysfunctional beliefs and thoughts and that these can be modified with time.4 With the help of a professional therapist, you’ll be able to recognize and change negative behavior that comes with distorted thoughts. As your overall thought patterns change your mood for the better, you can gradually pull out of depression’s downward spiral.

Benefits Of Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Over Other Depression Treatments

Benefits Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Depression


Compared to traditional therapy techniques, CBT centers entirely on two specific aspects: “cognitive restructuring” and “behavioral activation.”5 Instead of focusing on why you think a certain way, CBT highlights what you think about and how you’ve come up with such a thought. You’re encouraged to use an educational and structured approach to identify, prioritize, and specifically address thinking and behavioral patterns that are causing you trouble.

Those adopting CBT for depression will often see a marked improvement in their behavior, usually within 12 to 16 weeks.6 Of course, this time period can differ depending on the individual and the severity of their condition.


How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works For Depression

In order to make sense of overwhelming emotions and issues in your life, the first step in CBT is to break them up into smaller parts. This will help you connect the dots between your thoughts, the behaviors they lead to, and the underlying problem affecting you.7 CBT specifically breaks these parts into:

  • The situation
  • Your thoughts
  • Your emotions
  • Your physical feelings
  • Your resultant actions

To start things off, you’ll speak with a trained therapist in a structured, safe, and confidential setting. In a CBT session, your therapist will try to recognize, understand, and change your overall thinking and behavioral patterns.8


These sessions will help you identify current life situations that may be a direct cause or a contributing factor to your depression. Your job is to work together with your therapist to unravel unhealthy thought patterns that result in self-destructive behavior and beliefs.

As a part of your psychotherapy or CBT session, you may be asked to maintain a journal to record your life events, thoughts, and reactions.9 Any negative reaction and thought pattern can be grouped under several categories, including:

  • Viewing the world in black-and-white terms
  • Rejecting positive experiences
  • Having habitual negative thoughts and reactions
  • Overgeneralizing any event
  • Taking every single detail too personally

These negative thought patterns or perceptions can then be replaced with more constructive ones using a series of efficient techniques such as:10 11

  • Learning to control and alter dysfunctional behavior or beliefs
  • Learning to assess external situations and reactions, including emotional behavior
  • Using effective self-evaluation techniques to reflect and respond to any situation

These coping methods can be practiced either on your own or with your therapist, and even in a controlled environment if you’re confronted with any challenges. CBT sessions are even available online.


Another reason CBT stands out among other depression treatment options is that it employs multiple strategies to evaluate your thoughts and behavior, like Socratic questioning (a structured, strategic questioning style that prompts you to connect your thoughts and problems), imagery, and role playing.12 Your therapist may also assign you homework.

Challenges Of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Depression

While CBT can be highly effective for depression, there are still a few challenges to be aware of.

This type of therapy involves revisiting painful memories and experiences and dealing with stressful and adverse situations that you’d otherwise avoid. While this may be distressing, you need to keep in mind that the ultimate aim of therapy is to help you deal with such stress and anxiety in a safe and constructive manner. You will also have to be ready to commit time to both the sessions and the exercises you’ll be expected to do outside of the sessions.13

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s Use Beyond Depression

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Depression

Besides being a highly effective way to treat depression, CBT has been used to treat an array of other medical conditions and disorders, including:

  • Antisocial behavior
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Eating disorder
  • General stress
  • Personality disorder
  • Sexual disorder
  • Sleep disorder
  • Phobias
  • Schizophrenia
  • Social skill problems
  • Substance abuse14

If you’re suffering from any one of these medical disorders, be sure to check with a medical professional and explore CBT as a treatment option.