Psychological treatments for depression

Psychological treatments for depression

Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) help people with depression to change negative patterns of thinking and improve their coping skills so they are better equipped to deal with life's stresses and conflicts. Psychological therapies may not only help a person to recover, but can also help to prevent the depression from reoccurring.

There are several types of psychological treatments shown to be effective in the treatment of depression:

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

CBT is a structured psychological treatment which recognises that a person's way of thinking (cognition) and acting (behaviour) affects the way they feel. CBT is one of the most effective treatments for depression, and has been found to be useful for a wide range of people, including children, adolescents, adults and older people.

In CBT, a person works with a professional (therapist) to identify the patterns of thought and behaviour that are either making them more likely to become depressed, or stopping them from improving once they become depressed.

CBT has an emphasis on changing thoughts and behaviour by teaching people to think rationally about common difficulties, helping them to shift their negative or unhelpful thought patterns and reactions to a more realistic, positive and problem-solving approach.

CBT is also well-suited to being delivered electronically (often called e-therapies). 

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

IPT is a structured psychological therapy that focuses on problems in personal relationships and the skills required to deal with these problems. IPT is based on the idea that relationship problems can have a significant impact on a person experiencing depression, and can even contribute to the cause.

IPT is thought to work by helping people to recognise patterns in their relationships that make them more vulnerable to depression. Identifying these patterns means they can focus on improving relationships, coping with grief and finding new ways to get along with others.

Behaviour therapy

Behaviour therapy is a major component of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), but behaviour therapy focuses exclusively on increasing a person's level of activity and pleasure in their life. Unlike CBT, it does not focus on changing the person's beliefs and attitudes. Instead it focuses on encouraging people to undertake activities that are rewarding, pleasant or give a sense of satisfaction, in an effort to reverse the patterns of avoidance, withdrawal and inactivity that make depression worse.

Mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT)

MBCT is generally delivered in groups and involves learning a type of meditation called 'mindfulness meditation'. This meditation teaches people to focus on the very present moment, just noticing whatever they are experiencing, be it pleasant or unpleasant, without trying to change it. At first, this approach is used to focus on physical sensations (like breathing), but later it is used to focus on feelings and thoughts.

MBCT helps people to stop their mind wandering off into thoughts about the future or the past, or trying to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. This is thought to be helpful in preventing depression from returning because it allows people to notice feelings of sadness and negative thinking patterns early on, before they have become fixed. It therefore helps the person to deal with these early warning signs better.

To find out about other psychological treatment approaches and the level of evidence behind them, download A guide to what works for depression.

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