Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) can help you change your thinking patterns and improve your coping skills so you're better equipped to deal with life's stresses and conflicts. As well as supporting your recovery, psychological therapies can also help you stay well by identifying and changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.
There are several types of effective psychological treatments for depression, as well as different delivery options. Some people prefer to work one on one with a professional, while others get more out of a group environment. A growing number of online programs, or e-therapies, are also available.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
CBT is a structured psychological treatment which recognises that the way we think (cognition) and act (behaviour) affects the way we feel. CBT is one of the most effective treatments for depression, and has been found to be useful for a wide range of ages, including children, adolescents, adults and older people.
CBT involves working with a professional (therapist) to identify thought and behaviour patterns that are either making you more likely to become depressed, or stopping you from getting better when you’re experiencing depression.
It works to change your thoughts and behaviour by teaching you to think rationally about common difficulties, helping you to shift 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 needed to deal with these. IPT is based on the idea that relationship problems can have a significant effect on someone experiencing depression, and can even contribute to the cause.
IPT helps you recognise patterns in your relationships that make you more vulnerable to depression. Identifying these patterns means you can focus on improving relationships, coping with grief and finding new ways to get along with others.
While behaviour therapy is a major component of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), unlike CBT it doesn’t attempt to change beliefs and attitudes. Instead it focuses on encouraging activities that are rewarding, pleasant or satisfying, aiming 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 a type of meditation called 'mindfulness meditation'. This teaches you to focus on the present moment – just noticing whatever you’re experiencing, whether it's pleasant or unpleasant – without trying to change it. At first, this approach is used to focus on physical sensations (like breathing), but then moves on to feelings and thoughts.
MBCT can help to stop your mind wandering off into thoughts about the future or the past, and avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings. This is thought to be helpful in preventing depression from returning because it encourages you to notice feelings of sadness and negative thinking patterns early on, before they become fixed. As a result, you’re able to deal with warning signs earlier and more effectively.
To find out about other psychological treatment approaches and the level of evidence behind them, download A guide to what works for depression.