Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely-researched therapies for depression. It was initially developed in the late 1970’s for depression and has since been expanded and adapted to treat a variety of mental and behavioral health problems including anxiety, substance use and even schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. Some other therapies including Behavioral Activation and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are considered to be variations of CBT. In a nutshell, CBT offers techniques to help people change how they interpret and respond to events that happen in order to help them feel better. CBT for depression has been shown repeatedly to be an effective treatment and it is as effective as antidepressant medications. In addition, compared to antidepressants, CBT reduces the likelihood that a person’s depressive symptoms return after treatment is stopped.

How Does CBT for Depression Work?

When people are feeling depressed, it can become difficult for them to continue engaging in their usual activities. This may be because depression can actually make activities less fun than they once were, and also because of fatigue, which is common in depression. In addition, when people are depressed they often experience highly self-critical and negative thoughts. In CBT for depression, therapists work with clients in a structured way to help them gradually reengage in activities and teach them strategies for reducing the impact of negative thoughts on mood.

What does CBT for Depression Look Like in Action?

CBT is generally collaborative, time-limited and goal-focused. A client and therapist work together to set specific goals about how a client would like things to be different and then the client learns and practices skills and techniques to work toward those goals. Many of the strategies overlap with those used in Behavioral Activation. In addition, structured exercises can help people modify negative thoughts in a way that makes them feel better. Although some forms of psychotherapy are open-ended, CBT is meant to be time-limited and many people can expect to get at least some benefit within 10-20 appointments.

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