Various treatments for depression can provide effective ways to alleviate symptoms, improve coping skills, and foster well-being.

Traditionally, depression has been addressed with medication for perceived biological causes and psychotherapy for psychosocial factors. However, this type of categorization is now losing favor.

Depression is a complex condition, and evidence from neuroscience shows that both medication and psychotherapy bring about similar changes in brain functioning, classifying them both as biological treatments.

As a result, current guidelines increasingly recommend psychotherapy as a viable option, regardless of perceived cause, either alone or alongside antidepressant medications.

Several types of therapy are commonly used to treat depression. Here are some of the most widely recognized approaches:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression is an evidence-based approach that helps you identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors. A CBT therapist will help you explore the connections between your thoughts, emotions, and actions, and learn to challenge and replace negative thoughts with more balanced ones.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT in treating depressive disorders.

A comprehensive meta-analysis of 115 studies confirmed that CBT is an effective strategy for depression. And a combined treatment of CBT and medication shows even greater effectiveness compared to medication alone. In addition, people treated with CBT have lower relapse rates compared to those treated with medication alone.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is considered an effective therapy for depression, particularly if it stems from relationship problems. The foundation of IPT lies in the understanding that depressive symptoms and relationship challenges are often intertwined and mutually influence each other.

This targeted short-term therapy spans 12–16 weeks and aims to help you identify and address relationship issues, improve communication, and build a support network.

One 2020 study evaluated IPT for individuals with work-related depression. The findings show that IPT was more effective in reducing depressive symptoms and improving work-related outcomes compared to standard treatment.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies

Mindfulness-based therapies for depression are therapeutic approaches that incorporate mindfulness principles and practices to help you manage and alleviate depressive symptoms.

These therapies, such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), aim to cultivate present-moment awareness, nonjudgmental acceptance, and a compassionate attitude toward oneself.

In mindfulness-based therapies, you learn to observe your thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them or reacting impulsively. By developing this mindful awareness, you can recognize negative thought patterns and emotions associated with depression and respond to them in a more skillful and compassionate manner.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for depression is a therapeutic approach that combines elements of CBT with mindfulness practices. Originally designed to treat borderline personality disorder, DBT has also been adapted to address depression and other mood disorders.

DBT targets negative thought patterns and behaviors linked to depression, fostering positive change. It equips you with emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal skills to handle tough emotions and challenges in a more healthy way.

The mindfulness aspect encourages present-moment awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of thoughts and feelings, promoting better emotional management.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is one of the foundational approaches in the field of psychology and psychotherapy. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, developed by pioneers like Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Psychodynamic therapy explores the unconscious processes and unresolved conflicts underlying depression. By delving into deeper emotional layers, this therapy increases self-awareness and understanding of how past experiences shape our present emotions and behaviors.

The body of empirical evidence supporting psychodynamic therapy’s effectiveness is growing, and meta-analyses confirm its role in treating depressive disorders.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the best therapy for depression, as different therapies can be effective for different individuals depending on their unique needs, preferences, and circumstances.

That said, CBT is the most widely used and rigorously studied type of therapy for depression. Numerous studies and meta-analyses have consistently shown that CBT is effective in treating depression across various populations and settings.

Several effective techniques are used in the treatment of depression, each targeting different aspects of the condition.

Here are some of the key techniques commonly employed:

  • Behavioral activation: Behavioral Activation for depression is a therapeutic approach that focuses on helping you engage in positive and rewarding activities to alleviate depressive symptoms. By scheduling and participating in activities you once enjoyed, you can break the cycle of depression and experience an improvement in mood and motivation.
  • Problem-solving skills: Problem-solving therapy helps you identify and address specific problems contributing to your depression. By learning effective problem-solving strategies, you can gain a sense of control and reduce feelings of helplessness.
  • Mood monitoring: Keeping track of your mood fluctuations and identifying triggers can help you become more aware of your emotional patterns. Mood monitoring aids in recognizing early signs of depression and allows for timely intervention.
  • Goal setting: Establishing realistic and achievable goals can provide you with a sense of purpose and direction. Accomplishing these goals boosts self-esteem and contributes to overall well-being.
  • Cognitive restructuring: This technique involves challenging and modifying negative thought patterns. By replacing irrational thoughts with more balanced and positive ones, you can alter your emotional responses and reduce depressive symptoms.
  • Mindfulness and meditation: Mindfulness practices involve cultivating present-moment awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness meditation can help you develop greater emotional regulation and cope with distress more effectively.
  • Gratitude journaling: Practicing gratitude by keeping a journal of positive experiences and things to be grateful for can enhance feelings of positivity and well-being.

Medication for depression may be considered if your symptoms are severe or if therapy alone hasn’t provided significant relief. Overall, combining therapy and medication is considered an effective approach for managing depression.

It’s important to have an open discussion with your healthcare professional to weigh the potential benefits and risks of medication.

Depression can feel debilitating, but therapy can be an invaluable resource, offering essential support and evidence-based techniques to challenge negative thought patterns and cultivate a healthier outlook on life.

It’s important to recognize that different types of therapy work well for different people. Finding the right therapeutic approach tailored to your needs can lead to more effective outcomes.