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Psychotherapy for Depression

Psychotherapy is a standard treatment for depression. It’s helpful to know about different kinds of counseling and how they help treat depression. Depending on the person and their symptoms, mental health professionals might recommend multiple types of therapy.

Last Modified: September 5, 2023
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What Can Psychotherapy Do for Depression?

Depression is a common and treatable mental health condition. Treatment typically involves psychotherapy and, in some instances, medication for depression. Psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy or counseling) can help with the emotional hardship of depression. It can also help prevent depression from recurring in the future.

Therapy sessions work by encouraging patients to modify behaviors and thought processes that contribute to their depression. Changing habits that contribute to depression can reduce symptoms. A therapist works with patients to develop coping strategies for negative thoughts or difficult past experiences. They also offer emotional support and help discover why patients are experiencing depression.

Two common forms of psychotherapy for depression are cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy. CBT focuses on helping people change negative thinking patterns and understand what issues might motivate their behavior. With IPT, counselors emphasize understanding how we respond to relationship challenges and provide support during a crisis, such as a death, divorce or job loss.

Benefits of Using Psychotherapy To Treat Depression

Psychotherapy’s benefits are well documented, but it is not always possible to predict which of the different types of counseling will be the most effective. Some forms of depression can require different treatments or a combination of therapies.In a recent scientific study on depression among caregivers, a combination of treatments was needed to successfully treat depression and anxiety.

Continuing research has helped treatment evolve over time as evidence accumulates. This constant updating of clinical knowledge helps to dispel older myths about depression and therapy to make treatment today more effective than before.

Experts have evidence that psychotherapy and antidepressant medication, or a combination of both, help treat depression. Unfortunately, they still cannot make a definitive conclusion, based on symptoms, about which treatment is most effective. In addition, there are many popular alternative treatments for depression, such as acupuncture, meditation, exercise and yoga.


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Types of Psychotherapy for Depression

Research shows that more than one type of intervention can be useful in treating mental health disorders. Therapists may mix elements from several types of psychotherapy in their treatment plans, depending on their training and the patient’s symptoms and needs.

Most forms of psychotherapy for depression fall into five broad categories:
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses mindfulness and acceptance strategies to focus on healing and discourage negative thoughts and feelings.
  • Behavioral Activation discourages the tendency to withdraw and disengage and treats depression by encouraging activity and teaching problem-solving skills.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy focuses on helping people change negative behavior and thinking patterns to understand and treat depression.
  • Integrative or Holistic Therapy is an approach that combines different forms of psychotherapy based on the patient's needs and symptoms.
  • Interpersonal Therapy emphasizes understanding how a person responds to difficulties in their relationships to help them deal with crises such as death, divorce or losing a job.

Psychotherapists are licensed mental health professionals. In many instances, therapy sessions focusing on specific issues are offered alongside prescription antidepression medication.

What Should You Expect From Psychotherapy?

Most psychotherapy sessions consist of one-on-one conversations between the therapist and the patient. At the start of therapy, you and the therapist will discuss what you hope to get from the sessions. They will ask you about your problems, listen and possibly take notes.

It is important to be open and comfortable. A therapist might ask you to practice new skills such as breathing exercises or mindfulness. Over several sessions, they will teach you ways to understand your emotions and thoughts. They will also offer strategies to help you cope with stressors and feel better about yourself.

Approaches to Psychotherapy to Treat Depression

There is no single solution or approach to treating depression. In some cases, such as a teen dealing with an anxiety disorder or depression, sessions may include the participation of a parent or guardian if the therapist believes this might help. In other instances, such as couples therapy, the mental health professional might think seeing each partner separately before seeing them together is best.

Depending on the condition, a therapist might also recommend group therapy. During group therapy, several people join a therapist to discuss their mental health issues.

Patients in group therapy benefit from hearing about other people’s experiences. They can also help support one another. Researchers who study this kind of therapy usually recommend groups of six to 12 people. A therapist might suggest trying individual and group therapy to help you determine which one feels right for you.

Finding a Therapist to Treat Your Depression

Depression can significantly impact your ability to go about your day-to-day life by affecting your work and your relationships. Finding professional help is critical but challenging if you do not know where to look or the right questions to ask.

Here are some important points to keep in mind when looking for a therapist:
  • What are the therapist's qualifications and experience?
  • What is their approach? What kinds of therapy do they offer?
  • Do they have experience working with a specific age group, such as children?
  • What are the goals of the therapy sessions? Does the therapist have a specific time frame, and how do they assess progress?
  • Are antidepressant medications an option? Can the therapist prescribe medications?
  • Are all meetings confidential? Are there any limits to confidentiality?

If you think you might be experiencing depression, remember that help is available. In the U.S., millions of people are diagnosed with depression every year and get the help they need. If you need help, reach out to your doctor or community health professional right away.


Professional Therapy, Done Online

A licensed therapist with BetterHelp can provide professional support and guidance, on your schedule. Sign up and get matched in as little as 48 hours.

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Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.