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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression: How It Can Help

Depression can feel neverending, but there’s hope. Learn how cognitive behavioral therapy for depression offers effective strategies for recovery here.

Table of Contents

What Is Depression?

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects how you feel, think, and act. People with depression experience a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Finding effective cognitive behavioral therapy for depression can help you work through your symptoms.

Depression is a persistent condition, typically lasting for two weeks or longer. It affects millions of people around the world. In the United States alone, nearly 8% of adults experience depression in a given year. It can occur at any age, but often starts in adulthood.1

cognitive behavioral therapy for depression

Distinguishing Depression from Sadness

Sadness is a normal human emotion. We all feel it at times and it is usually caused by specific situations. However, once the situation improves or we’ve adapted to it, the sadness should subside.

Depression goes beyond sadness. It is a constant state of sadness and disinterest that doesn’t go away. It can make you feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic.

Depression can affect your ability to function and may even increase the risk of conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is one way to help manage the symptoms and cope with the underlying issues that cause it.2

Exploring Depression

Depression brings about a range of symptoms that can affect every aspect of a person’s life.
These symptoms are not always easy to spot. They can be subtle and change over time. However, understanding these symptoms is the first step towards healing.

Emotional Symptoms

Emotional symptoms are the most commonly associated with depression. These can include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities.

Some people with depression may also feel tearful, irritable, or indifferent. They may have a sense of guilt or worthlessness that doesn’t match reality.

Cognitive Symptoms

Depression also affects the way you think. Cognitive symptoms may include difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

Some people may have negative thoughts about themselves or the world around them. In severe cases, these thoughts may extend to ideas of suicide or self-harm.

Physical Symptoms

Depression also has physical symptoms. You might notice changes in your appetite or weight. Some people eat more when they’re depressed, while others eat less. Sleep patterns can also be disrupted, leading to insomnia or excessive sleep.

Other physical symptoms can include feeling tired all the time, having low energy, and experiencing unexplained aches and pains.

Social Symptoms

Social symptoms refer to how depression affects your relationships and daily activities. You might avoid social events or lose interest in seeing friends. You might stop doing things you used to enjoy.

At work or school, your performance might suffer. In cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, social activities are used to help people regain their interest in socializing and become more active.

Types of Depression

Depression is not a one-size-fits-all condition. It comes in many forms, each with its own unique set of symptoms and challenges. Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression often focuses on specific types to ensure that the treatment plan is tailored to each individual’s needs.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder, often simply referred to as depression, is characterized by a period of two weeks or more during which a person experiences a depressed mood or loss of interest in most activities.

This is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in appetite and sleep, feelings of worthlessness, and difficulty concentrating.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Persistent depressive disorder, also known as dysthymia, is a form of depression that lasts for at least two years. While the symptoms are similar to those of MDD, they are usually not as intense. However, the long-term nature of PDD can make it a challenging condition to live with.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression can help those with PDD work through their deep-rooted symptoms of depression.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. It typically starts in the late fall or early winter and lifts in the spring.

However, it can also occur in the summer as well. SAD is a serious condition that can impact a person’s daily life.3

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is a type of depression that can occur after childbirth. It’s more severe than the common “baby blues” that many new mothers experience.

Symptoms can include extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion, making it difficult for the new mother to complete daily care activities for herself or for her baby.

Bipolar Disorder and Depression

Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of extreme mood swings known as mania and depression.

During a manic phase, a person might feel extremely high, energetic, or irritable. During a depressive phase, they might feel the symptoms commonly associated with depression.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression?

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected, and by making changes in one area, we can make changes in other areas.

In cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, a therapist works with a patient to identify, evaluate, and modify unhelpful thought patterns that are linked to a person’s depression. This therapy also focuses on changing behavior patterns that can reinforce negative thoughts.

Are There Other Types of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression?

There is also CBT group therapy. These groups can give individuals an opportunity to develop support systems, practice strategies for dealing with their depression, and learn from others’ experiences.

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is a well-studied therapy approach. Many scientific studies show that it works well for many people. These studies have found that people who get CBT often see their depression symptoms get better.4

Basic Principles of CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression works on a few key principles, including that it:

Is Problem-Focused

One of the first steps in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is identifying specific issues causing distress. These might be life situations, personal relationships, or symptoms like feelings of sadness or anxiety.

Is Goal-Oriented

After identifying the problems, you and your therapist will set goals related to them. These goals are concrete and measurable, such as reducing the frequency of negative thoughts or improving your interactions in a challenging relationship.

Emphasizes the Present Moment

CBT focuses on your current thoughts and beliefs rather than events in your past. While your past is acknowledged as important, the main focus in CBT is on thinking patterns and beliefs that are affecting you now.

Requires Active Participation

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is a highly participatory therapy. This means that in addition to your therapy sessions, you may also be given “homework” to do. This could be activities that encourage you to apply what you’ve learned in therapy to your everyday life.

Is Time Limited

CBT for depression is usually provided in focused, short-term treatment. The exact number of sessions depends on the severity of your symptoms, whether you’ve had any previous treatments, and other factors.

Offers Skill-Building

A key part of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is learning new skills and strategies to deal with the issues that are causing you distress. This could include problem solving, communication skills, stress management, and emotion regulation.

How Can CBT Help Alleviate Symptoms of Depression?

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression offers tools to manage your emotions. These tools train you to change how you think and behave. A shift in thought patterns can improve your mood.
Techniques you may use during CBT for depression include:

Cognitive Restructuring

To challenge irrational and unhelpful thoughts, you can use cognitive restructuring. With this technique, you will identify the thought patterns that are causing your distress.

You will then evaluate these thoughts to determine if they are realistic or distorted. If the thought is distorted, you can replace it with a more balanced version of the situation.

Activity Scheduling

Activity scheduling involves planning your day to include positive experiences. You might schedule time for hobbies, exercise, or socializing. Adding pleasant activities can help combat low mood and lack of motivation.

Thought Journaling

Thought journaling asks you to write down your thoughts and feelings. Seeing these thoughts on paper can give you a clearer picture of your mind’s patterns. This clarity can help you challenge negative thoughts more effectively.

ABC Analysis

ABC analysis stands for Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence. You record an event, your reaction to it, and the result of your behavior. By understanding these connections, you can make better choices in the future.5


Fact-checking is where you question your negative thoughts. You ask if there’s evidence for your negative belief. If there’s no proof, it’s often easier to let go of the unhelpful thought.

Successive Approximation

Successive approximation means breaking down a large task into smaller steps. Tackling smaller tasks one at a time can make a big goal less overwhelming. It also brings a sense of achievement with each completed step, which can lift your mood.

Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression not only works in the short-term but also has long-term effects. Studies have found that people who get CBT have a lower risk of depression relapse. This means that they are less likely to suffer from depression again in the future.6

In CBT, you will:

Learn Coping Skills

Life is full of challenges. When you’re dealing with depression, these challenges can seem overwhelming.

This therapy helps you learn how to handle these challenges in healthier ways. It teaches you how to solve problems, manage stress, and cope with difficult emotions.

Build Self-Esteem

Depression often lowers your self-esteem. You might think that you’re worthless or a failure. Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression can help change these thoughts.

It shows you how to value yourself. It helps you to see your strengths and achievements. This can boost your self-esteem.

Improve Relationships

Depression may also strain your relationships. You might withdraw from loved ones or argue with them. This therapy can improve your communication skills.

CBT helps you express your feelings in healthier ways. This can improve your relationships and make you feel more connected to others.

Different Approaches Within Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In traditional cognitive therapy, the focus is on your thoughts. This approach looks at how you think about yourself, the world, and other people. The therapist works with you to identify and change negative thoughts, beliefs, or assumptions.

However, there are other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression as well, including:

Behavioral Activation Therapy

This therapy is a part of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression that focuses on your actions. The idea is that when you are depressed, you may stop doing things you enjoy. This can make your depression worse.

In this therapy, your therapist helps you identify activities that are enjoyable and meaningful to you.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

MBCT combines CBT with mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment without judging it. You practice being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT is another approach within cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. In this therapy, you learn how to accept your negative thoughts and feelings instead of trying to change them.

Here, you will also learn how to commit to actions that are in line with your values, even if you are feeling depressed.

Tailoring Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Individual Needs

Every person is different, and so is their experience with depression. That’s why in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, the first step is to understand what you need and what you want to achieve.

Your therapist will talk to you about your feelings, your thoughts, and your life. This way, they can understand what is causing your depression and what you want to change. Then, they can design a therapy plan that fits you.

Modifying CBT Techniques for Specific Challenges

In cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, the techniques used can be changed to fit your specific challenges. For example, if you have trouble with negative thoughts, your therapist might focus more on cognitive restructuring.

On the other hand, if you have trouble managing your emotions, your therapist may focus more on relaxation and mindfulness techniques. The goal is to use the techniques that will help you the most.

Addressing Co-Occurring Conditions

Sometimes, people with depression also have other conditions at the same time. This could be anxiety, substance use disorder, or a physical illness. In cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, these other conditions are not ignored.

Instead, they are addressed along with your depression. Your therapist will help you understand how these conditions are related to your depression and how they can be managed. This can help you deal with all aspects of your health and improve your overall well-being.

Duration and Results of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression usually lasts for around 12 to 20 sessions. These sessions are often once a week and last about 45 to 60 minutes each. This gives you enough time to learn new skills and start to see changes in your thoughts and behaviors.

Factors Affecting Treatment Duration

How long you stay in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression can depend on different things. This can be the severity of your depression, how quickly you learn new skills, or how much support you have outside of therapy.

For example, if your depression is severe, you might need more sessions. Or, if you learn new skills quickly, you might need fewer sessions. Your therapist will work with you to decide how many sessions you need.

Recognizing Progress and Measuring Results

In cognitive behavioral therapy for depression, progress is often seen in small changes. You might notice that you’re thinking more positive thoughts, or that you’re doing more activities that you enjoy. These changes can show that the therapy is working.

Your therapist can also use tools to measure your progress, which can include questionnaires that ask about your feelings and thoughts. These tools can help you and your therapist see how much you’re improving and if you need to change anything in your therapy plan.

Boardwalk Recovery's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression Programs

Boardwalk Recovery is a treatment center where people can find a way to live free from depression or other mental health disorders.

Specialized CBT Services for Depression

At Boardwalk Recovery, one of the key services is cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. While evidence-based treatments are mainly used, there is an emphasis on holistic methods of healing the mind, body, and soul.

During the course of CBT, you will be challenged to think differently about yourself and others, and examine your beliefs, values, goals, and behavior in order to gain insight into why you may have depression.

Personalized Treatment Plans

Every person is unique, and so is their path to recovery. That’s why, at Boardwalk Recovery, we take the time to develop a personalized treatment plan that fits the unique needs and experiences of each individual. We take into account the specific challenges, goals, and circumstances of the person.

This personalized approach delivers the most effective treatment and gives clients the best chance of success in their recovery journey. Common treatment plans may include medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, social support, lifestyle changes, and more.

Get in touch with us today for the specialized support you deserve.
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