What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression?

Depression is a mental health condition in which a person persistently feels hopeless and sad, sometimes for no apparent reason. It is thought to often be the result of genetic and biological conditions in the brain. If left untreated, severe cases of depression may lead to suicide. Although the most common form of treatment for depression is medication to alter brain chemicals that affect mood, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression may also be used. This form of therapy involves a patient talking with a counselor in order to learn new systematic ways to change negative thoughts that can occur during depressive states.

The foundation of this type of CBT is based upon the combination of the teachings of two psychological theories: cognitive and behavioral. The central idea behind the cognitive theory of psychology is that by observing thought processes, a person can learn to change his or her feelings about certain situations. The behavioral theory of psychological is based on the belief that all observable behaviors are learned and therefore, can be systematically changed.


The basis of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is the central belief that a person’s feelings are caused by his or her own thought processes and not as the result of other people’s actions or other external reasons. Since feelings are due to internal causes, a person can learn to change his or her thought processes when certain situations arise. For example, if a person who suffers from depression makes a mistake, he or she may be prone to automatically think of him or herself as unintelligent and unable to do anything correctly. The goal of this type of therapy is to teach the person to change these automatic negative thoughts into something more positive in order to prevent worsening of depressive symptoms.

The exact process of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression will typically depend on the specific therapist and patient. In many cases, a therapist will have a conversation with a patient and ask about the thoughts that automatically run through the patient’s head after certain instances. The therapist can then come up with a new phrase for a person to repeat in his or her head if these instances ever occur. A person with depression may be advised to repeatedly think to him or herself after making a mistake that it happens to everyone and does not make him or her worthless. By making a concentrated effort to override the automatic negative thoughts with more positive ones, it is thought that the positive thoughts will become the automatic thoughts over time.

Critics of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression believe it has not been proven to conclusively improve depression. They claim that the therapy is not enough to treat depression because the condition is thought to mainly be the result of uncontrollable biological factors in the brain’s chemicals. Many doctors usually recommend medication as a main form of treatment for depression, with therapy being a supplemental treatment only.



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