Depression is among the most common mental health concerns. People of all ages are vulnerable to experiencing symptoms of depression including persistent sadness, loss of interest, social withdrawal, change in appetite, sleep, and energy levels, and decreased concentration. In the most severe cases, a person may experience thoughts of harming themselves or suicide. When any of the above symptoms begin to interfere with a person’s life or cause health or safety concerns, seeking professional help from a trained mental health professional (e.g., therapist, counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) is highly recommended.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Widely known as CBT, Cognitive Behavior Therapy targets your thoughts. Events trigger thoughts, which directly affect our feelings and consequently determine our actions. CBT recognizes you cannot change every situation, so therapists work with you on changing the way you think about events by reframing negative, unhelpful thoughts into more realistic, helpful thoughts. CBT teaches you to control what you can control: yourself. The goal of CBT is to help clients determine the accuracy of their negative thoughts and form alternative, healthier ones. Clients also work on changing depressed behavior patterns that result from dysfunctional thinking. Unhelpful thoughts are the foundation of depression, so creating healthy, alternative thoughts will alleviate depressed moods.
CBT focuses on cognitive restructuring (reframing thoughts) and the present (immediacy). Client and therapist work together to uncover core beliefs he/she has about him-/herself and how those beliefs affect the content of his/her thoughts. Therapy reveals clients’ value systems and how they determine their worth. What and how clients think about a situation is more important than the reason why they process information in a particular way. Therapy is time-limited (usually lasting 12-20 weeks), goal oriented, and targets specific issues one at a time using an educational approach, having clients write down their negative thoughts in a Daily Thought Record or journal and scheduling activities to increase behavioral activation. Common techniques used by cognitive behavioral therapists include Socratic Questioning, role playing, guided discovery, and imagery. Clients are expected to be interactive, completing regular homework assignments and in-session activities.
Research suggests CBT is as effective as antidepressants and attends to the lingering symptoms medication does not improve. It is an especially effective therapy for people whose symptoms are not as intense and for which medication is less appropriate.
Behavioral activation is both a stand-alone treatment and essential component of CBT used to assist clients in reducing depressed moods and improve problem-solving skills. Depression often leads to a lack of structure and activity and one way to combat depressed moods is to develop a daily routine and execute small tasks within it. Therapists help individuals learn to challenge themselves and make strides toward acting in the manner they did before depression. People experiencing depression often become less active because they believe there is no point in doing things they once found pleasurable, but this only worsens their symptoms. Therapists help clients begin to re-master enjoyable behaviors, their depression levels will decrease.