Retreats Vs. Therapy For Depression

Medically reviewed by Aaron Dutil, LMHC, LPC
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Depression can be overwhelming, so choosing a method of treatment can feel challenging. Many people may not know where to turn, and others may feel uncomfortable expressing their desire for help. The most well-known option is meeting with a therapist, but one of the more unique options is going on a retreat. 

Retreats can offer a different perspective about how to cope with depression, which can be very helpful; some individuals may benefit more from retreats than therapy. Here are the benefits of each of these treatment methods so you can decide which is best for you.

iStock/Ivan Pantic
Wondering about therapy for depression vs retreats?

The limits of therapy

Many people seek help for depression through regular outpatient talk therapy sessions. Therapy is one of the most common treatments for many mental health disorders and can be highly effective in helping people treat their depression and improve their emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Therapy can often be the first step to treating depression since it has an excellent success rate and is easy to fit into the modern lifestyle. It usually only requires a couple of hours a week, fitting into most busy schedules. There are many different types of therapy, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy focused on identifying and replacing unhelpful thought patterns and beliefs
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which can be similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, but also focuses on the mind-body connection and teaches awareness of thoughts and emotions
  • Couples therapy, therapy focusing on the dynamics between romantic partners
  • Family systems therapy, a treatment with a focus on resolving conflicts between individuals in the family
  • Group therapy, where sessions are conducted in a group setting utilizing various therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychodynamic therapy. Group therapy may take place at a recovery center, church, or community center
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which helps people accept their circumstances and change negative habits and patterns, can be an effective depression treatment for those with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, affective disorder, and more

Medication, in-patient services, and more

When therapy is not enough, your doctor may recommend other options, such as medication or in-patient services. These programs can be more rigorous, time-consuming, or lifestyle-altering than outpatient therapy, but are effective for some people experiencing symptoms that require intensive care. Some symptoms that may go beyond the realms of talk therapy include:

  • Depression that is exacerbated by alcohol and substance use disorder
  • Depression experienced with eating disorders
  • Chronic lack of sleep
  • Changes in medications
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Psychosis or manic episodes

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

How retreats treat depression

Many people seek out retreats if they find that traditional talk therapy does not alleviate all their symptoms. Retreats can be much more intensive than talk therapy, as they include full-day care and multi-day stays. While retreats are not particularly common, nor do they fit easily into the modern schedule and day-to-day life, they can often provide stellar results and high success rates. Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, is often a major component of depression retreats, alongside other healing, holistic practices, such as exercise and meditation, with the goal of boosting energy and improving overall well-being. 

Since retreats are around-the-clock treatment settings, they can often lead to more concrete outcomes more quickly than weekly therapy. Retreats provide spaces for patients to engage with professionals in more in-depth ways than traditional therapy offers. Patients can also connect with others who may be going through similar struggles, an option that standard talk therapy may not provide. Many people who choose to attend a retreat enjoy the multiple interpersonal relationships they develop.

Should you choose therapy for depression?

Overall, the two treatments are similar in terms of success rates and the end goal of helping patients manage depression and prevent further mental health disorders. A retreat and therapy are also similar in that they are both facilitated by licensed mental health professionals and include practices based on research that best help those struggling with mental health disorders such as depression. 

Evaluating your options

Although the two options differ in how they fit into typical lifestyles and the severity of mental illnesses they treat, both can help a person move forward into a happy, healthy lifestyle. The ultimate choice of which option – or both working together – is most effective is personal, and it comes down to you and your mental healthcare provider.

Online therapy

Research on internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) suggests that online therapy can help individuals reduce depression symptoms and symptoms of other mental health issues, including but not limited to anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from a traumatic event.  

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

Online therapy can be a great option for coping with depression. Clients can talk with a licensed mental health provider to explore concerns about depression from the comfort of their own homes. Studies have found that digital therapy yielded “meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety”.

Internet-based therapy also has several benefits for participants. It’s available for people living in remote areas, and it’s typically more affordable than in-person therapy because clients are not required to travel for an appointment. For those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression that is most pronounced in the winter months, online therapy can be especially helpful, because it allows patients to receive support without having to leave the comfort of their own homes. 

Online therapy through BetterHelp is a convenient and cost-effective option for those who need mental health support or want someone to talk to about what’s going on in their life. You can find a qualified therapist to work with utilizing a therapy modality that suits your needs, from mindfulness-based therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy. Click here to try BetterHelp, or read our reviews and FAQs to learn more.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

The following are common questions regarding depression:

What is considered major depression?

The DSM criteria for major depressive disorder or major depression asserts that at least five symptoms of depression must last for two weeks or more, affecting a person most of the day, daily. This would be considered a major depressive episode. How an episode of major depression can manifest may vary from person to person, but it may include symptoms such as:

  • A down, depressed, or low mood
  • Loss of interest in activities one would generally enjoy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Slowed body movements
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating

If you notice ongoing symptoms of depression in yourself, it’s important to talk with a mental health professional who can help. Although some say that depression is attributed to a chemical imbalance in the brain, there are many different factors that can go into the development of a mood disorder, and experts say that this is an oversimplification

Co-occurring conditions

It’s worth noting that it is common for people with depression to live with another additional mental health condition. For example, someone might also live with an anxiety disorder or a substance use disorder. If you or someone you know might be facing challenges related to the use of drugs, help is available.

If someone lives with more than one mental health condition, they may address both with the support of a professional such as a therapist.

Is depression a permanent condition?

iStock/valentinrussanov

Although there is no one-size-fits-all method to heal from depression, there are many effective depression treatments that may help a person manage conditions such as major depressive disorder. Some people may use the term “depression recovery” to talk about their mental health journey with clinical depression. 

When someone says depression recovery, what that looks like could certainly vary from person to person. It is possible for individuals who have a diagnosis of a depressive disorder to go into remission from symptoms, which may be what some people are referring to when they say “depression recovery.” Therapy can help with many mental health issues, including depression.

Is depression considered a mental illness?

Depression is considered a mental health condition, disorder, or mental illness. Clinical depression is a leading disability in the United States, and major depression or major depressive disorder is one of the most frequently diagnosed mental health conditions in the United States, alongside anxiety disorders. 

That said, there are a variety of options for depression treatment. Treatment options for depression include but aren’t limited to talk therapy, medication*, and alternative therapies or treatments. Even in these categories, there are many treatment options, some of which can be used together. For example, some forms of therapy may look to find the underlying causes or root cause of depression, whereas others may predominantly focus on the here and now.

*Make sure to consult with your doctor before you start, stop, or change medications and/or your medication routine.

Additional support tools and options

Other tools, such as support groups and a healthy diet, can also be advantageous for those who live with depression. Factors such as social support and a self-care routine that involves sleep hygiene, physical activity, learning one’s stress triggers, and other practices or tools, such as mindfulness meditation, that a person might see fit, can help them care for their overall health. Self-care routines can vary from person to person, just like depression treatment itself can.

A depression retreat will often be an intensive program that allows someone to focus on healing while they’re away from daily life. Like a wellness retreat, the time someone’s away for a depression retreat may vary. However, wellness retreats aren’t usually geared toward depression recovery or addressing a mental health condition the way that depression retreats are. With this in mind, it’s important to look into the program at a depression retreat, or retreat centers for any other condition, thoroughly to assure that you or a loved one will be in good hands. Often, there will be reviews and testimonials for retreat centers from previous guests.

Getty/AnnaStills
Wondering about therapy for depression vs retreats?

Takeaway

There are many options for depression treatment. Some individuals like to work with doctors who take a holistic approach to depression symptoms, whereas others benefit most from another approach. What works for one person might not work for another, and it is not uncommon for people to require trial and error to find the best route for themselves as a unique person when it comes to depression treatment.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
You don't have to face depression aloneGet started