What Happens During CBT for Depression?

I’ve witnessed many people successfully overcome depression in my role as a CBT therapist.  Below is a summary of what clients can expect to do during CBT for depression:  

Understand Your Situation– When we are in a depressed mood, we tend to avoid things, including taking stock of what’s really happening in our lives.  Often times, clients under-estimate how much their depressed mood may be impacting them.  Coming to grips with the reality of your challenges is a first step for making changes and regaining a healthier sense of control.  Don’t try to keep it all to yourself.  Talking with a CBT therapist can help to enhance your understanding of your situation, explore some healthy options for dealing with your challenges, and start making a plan for some changes. 

Improve Your Thought Processes – Finding ways to develop more accepting, balanced, and flexible viewpoints is one of the keys for feeling better.  Have you been holding on to past mistakes, mentally berating yourself or others over and over again, reliving painful memories, or arguing with yourself about “would of, could of, should of?”  If so, that’s understandable and rumination is part of the human experience.  But be honest – does thinking in those ways make you feel better or solve any issues?  All CBT models have specific suggestions to make changes in your thought processes. 

Be Active – Be active and engaged every day.  Better yet, consistently do something you find intrinsically rewarding – pursue your passions.  How about the stuff you used to enjoy, but stopped doing when you became depressed?  Even taking small steps can help – take a few minutes to play with your pet, or savor your favorite drink.  If need be, change it up a bit and try to rekindle your energy – the key is to be active in the process.  Passivity is a breeding ground for depression.  Bottom line – researchers have found that behavioral activation is among the most critical factors for effectively dealing with depression.  If you are struggling with finding a direction or gathering the momentum you need to consistently stay active, seek support from a CBT therapist. 

Be Social – Make sure that at least some of your efforts towards behavioral activation include interacting with other people.  Even if you’re an introvert, having small group or one-on-one exchanges with those whom you are comfortable being around can make a big difference.  Reconnect with others who have similar interests and values.  Also consider joining an organization, participating in a group activity, or attending a meeting of some sort.  Although being part of a more defined group has its pros and cons, researchers have found that “structural support” can help with depression.  And, yes, it’s ok for some of these connections to occur in the virtual world.

Cope with Life Challenges – Often times depression is triggered by a life event that leaves us feeling lost, defeated, stuck, or hopeless.  For example, you may have had an injury or disease, or lost a job or loved one.  If this has been part of your experience, I offer my sincere condolences.  It’s understandable how these types of situations impact your entire view of the world.  AND, I encourage you to actively deal with your challenges, which means courageously continuing to live your best life.  What should you do?  Of course, only you can answer that question.  Perhaps a clue to consider though, is how your prior life activities supported your values.  The goal is find fulfillment again by refocusing your energy from what you can’t do, to what you can do.  

Authored by Jim Carter, Ph.D.

Dr. Carter provides CBT for adults with depression.  CBT is a therapy approach with strong empirical support for the treatment of depression, and typically occurs over 10-15 sessions.  The treatment includes ongoing symptom evaluation, and goal setting.  In individual therapy, the specific types and sequencing of interventions is selected based upon client needs and negotiated in a collaborative manner.  In group therapy, the content is pre-set and the clients explore ways to apply the concepts to their lives.  

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