What is Cognitive Therapy for Depression?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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Cognitive therapy for depression is a type of psychotherapy that generally asks patients to consider how their thought patterns might be influencing their moods. Cognitive therapies for mental disorders like depression stem from the cognitive theory of depression, which is that many people become depressed due to frequent, negative thoughts. Cognitive therapy for depression generally asks patients to analyze their thoughts, and their emotional reactions to those thoughts, with the help and guidance of a therapist. Therapy can help patients replace negative thoughts with more positive ones, and it can also help patients to make behavioral changes that provide positive experiences and positive reinforcement. Cognitive therapy for depression is considered quite effective for treating mild, moderate, and severe depression, whether or not it is combined with the use of antidepressant drugs.

Many cognitive psychologists believe that thought patterns usually predict mood. According to the cognitive theory of depression, people who largely experience positive thoughts will generally enjoy greater feelings of well-being and good mood. People who largely experience negative thoughts, however, may begin to suffer from depression. Most cognitive psychologists believe that it's normal to have the occasional negative thought. Depression most often occurs when negative thoughts become habitual for a patient, and happen automatically. Often, the patient himself may not even be aware of the negative nature of many of his thoughts.


Therapists who use cognitive therapies for depression believe that depression can be treated by reducing the frequency of negative, and often erroneous, thoughts for the depressed patient. The therapist usually asks the depressed patient to examine his thought processes during periods of depressed mood. The therapist will generally ask the patient to provide evidence that negative thoughts may not be strictly true. Once the patient has uncovered evidence to contradict a particular negative thought, the therapist can help the patient develop a more positive thought that can be used to replace the negative one. Cognitive therapy for depression usually asks patients to monitor their thoughts and replace negative thoughts with positive ones whenever possible.

Most cognitive psychologists also ask patients to alter their behavior and reactions to situations that may spark depression. Most people suffering from depression experience the strongest feelings of depressed mood during certain circumstances, or at certain times of day. Therapists often work with their patients to develop positive, beneficial reactions to these situations. In this way, patients can improve their own circumstances and enjoy more positive experiences, even in situations and circumstances that once normally worsened mood.

While the process of cognitive therapy for depression can be slow, it is believed to be very effective. Patients experiencing mild to moderate depression often experience a remission of symptoms with cognitive therapy alone. Patients with more severe depression can benefit too, though they may also need to employ antidepressant drugs. Psychologists believe that patients who undergo cognitive therapy for depression, with or without concurrent medication use, generally have a far lower risk of relapse than patients who choose to treat depression with medication alone, or with more traditional talk therapy.


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