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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a treatment for depression

by Sarah Graham
Thursday 06 November 2014
1306 5742

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (more commonly known by its acroynm, CBT) is recommended as a treatment for depression by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and is probably the most common treatment currently offered to people affected by the condition.

We asked three RSCPP therapists to explain the treatment in more detail, and answer some of the questions you may have about treating depression through CBT. 


What is CBT and how does it work?

CBT is the current treatment of choice for depression in the NHS. It can help you to become your own therapist and give you some tools to manage the problem. The treatment initially involves developing an understanding of how your thoughts and behaviours contribute to depression. The key is in identifying negative thoughts and patterns of behaviour (such as socially isolating yourself, addictive behaviours, reducing activity levels and especially disengaging from enjoyable activities) that maintain a negative cycle. 

Accredited Psychotherapist Sandra Zecevic-Gonzalez


How can CBT be applied to treating depression?

Therapist: Registered Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Marshall
There is a lot of research which shows that CBT can help people suffering from depression. We know that if you are depressed, you are likely to be having a lot of negative, often unrealistic thoughts about yourself and your world. We know that negative thoughts usually lead to more negative thoughts. This can become a 'catch 22' situation which may feel impossible to break out of. Faulty thoughts are so common that CBT therapists have a list of them! In CBT, you and your therapist work together to identify the unhelpful thoughts that you're having and offer ways to challenge the faulty thinking process.
Registered Psychologist Dr. Jennifer Marshall


How long does CBT last? 

Most people benefit from the 16-24 sessions for depression, recommended by NICE. Challenging negative beliefs and changing unhelpful behaviours can take time, so the length of treatment for depression will vary depending on who you are, your circumstances, support systems, severity, and how long you have been struggling with it. 

Accredited Psychotherapist Sandra Zecevic-Gonzalez


Who is CBT suitable for? 

CBT alone is good for mild to moderate depression. If you have severe depression then your GP may suggest CBT and anti-depressant medication together. CBT is collaborative, so you must be motivated to engage with the therapy and perform tasks in between sessions. 'It only takes one therapist to change a lightbulb but the lightbulb has to want to change'. Your therapist can't do CBT 'to' someone who doesn't want to be there.

Registered Psychologist Kate Jenkins


What outcome can you expect from CBT as a treatment for depression?

Most people see a large reduction in depression, possibly a complete remission, and find themselves equipped with strategies to recognise early warning signs in the future and implement a relapse prevention strategy.

Registered Psychologist Kate Jenkins


How can I tell if a therapist is qualified to offer CBT?

They should be a clinical psychologist, accredited CBT therapist or another therapist (e.g. counsellor) who has had specific CBT training from an accredited organisation. 

Registered Psychologist Kate Jenkins

An important part of therapy is developing a good working alliance with your therapist - in other words, feeling heard, in tune and safe with them.

Accredited Psychotherapist Sandra Zecevic-Gonzalez


Will I have to go over my childhood in detail?

No, not necessarily. Often it's helpful to figure out why certain patterns of thinking have developed, but CBT is about learning strategies to manage the here and now. If you don't want to talk about your past then that's fine.

Registered Psychologist Kate Jenkins 

Finding support

You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Depression, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Depression

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Updated 24 November 2014