The whole family watched helplessly as she sank into depression. She had no idea when she awakened as a newlywed that only hours later, she’d be a widow. She was a daughter, sister, cousin and aunt. Thankfully, only four months of cognitive behavioral therapy led her out of depression.
Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is a mixture of two therapies – cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy – according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Developed by psychotherapist Aaron Beck, M.D. in the 1960s, it’s become increasingly popular over the last two decades for treating depression.
This type of treatment focuses on the patient’s thoughts and beliefs and how they affect moods and actions. The goal is to make an individual’s thinking sounder and to change unhealthy behavior patterns as a result.
Cognitive therapy for depression has become especially effective for people with minor or moderate depression, NIMH indicates. Some patients improve with this type of therapy alone, However, others require medication in conjunction with it.
Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that therapists like to use cognitive behavior therapy for depression because it’s a short-term treatment, usually 15 to 20 visits over a period of several months. This makes it popular with managed care, which seeks to control costs. It has also been heavily researched and proven safe and effective.
How It Works
Cognitive behavior therapists use a variety of techniques to treat depression. The therapy focuses entirely on present-day problems versus their causes, such as childhood issues. The patient completes simple and structured exercises. Therapists usually give assignments to be completed at home to reinforce what’s learned during the therapy session. Patients have to work hard in this type of therapy.
Depressed individuals generally make negative or pessimistic assumptions about themselves, their futures and the world at large that eventually become automatic. The mistakes in their thinking lead to depression and behavior that’s self-defeating. Cognitive behavior therapy helps alleviate this depressive state by helping them identify and change their mistaken thoughts and behavior.
Steps in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
The first step in cognitive therapy for depression is assisting the patient in identifying any distorted thinking. The therapist usually directs the patient to keep a written daily log of any negative thinking or instances of depression and the circumstances surrounding them.
Patients next learn how to replace irrational thoughts with ones that are reasonable. They go through a process of asking themselves questions to test whether or not their thinking is accurate, then analyze any distorted thoughts.
Behavioral exercises from the first are an important part of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. The therapist and the patient normally establish goals together. Tasks that might be overwhelming are broken down into smaller steps.
Positive reinforcement is also an important part of this type of therapy. Patients learn to reward themselves for making healthy changes in their thoughts and behavior. This is particularly helpful with negative behaviors associated with depression like overeating and staying in bed all day.
It’s important for anyone who thinks he or she suffers from depression to seek the advice of a physician. Often he or she is the best source of a referral when looking for a qualified therapist.
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) site
Johns Hopkins Medicine site