Therapy for depression: 5 treatment types

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated January 12, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you felt like you’re not yourself lately? Maybe you can't seem to get out of bed in the morning, or perhaps you're losing interest in your hobbies. These symptoms could be a sign that you are experiencing depression.

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There are many therapy options for depression

What is depression?

Depression (the phrase typically used to refer to the clinical diagnosis of major depressive disorder) is a mental illness that can cause negative thinking patterns and alter your behavior patterns as a result. Depression could be caused by life events, brain chemistry, general life stressors, medication, substance use (please note that the DSM-5 no longer uses the term “substance abuse”), or a variety of other reasons. When people experience depression, they may feel sad, lonely, empty, or even angry. They may lack the motivation to do the things they used to enjoy.

Some other symptoms include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite or changes in weight that can't be explained
  • Sadness or otherwise depressed mood
  • Anger or a short temper
  • Sudden change in behavioral patterns
  • Lack of interest in normally enjoyable activities 
  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or loneliness
Types of therapy for depression

Treating depression and reducing depressive symptoms is possible through therapy, and there are a variety of types of therapy for depression, including talk therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapies, medication, and support groups. Research suggests that adults can respond in different ways to different therapeutic approaches and that finding the most effective type of therapy for each individual helps people recover faster. 

According to an article published in World Psychiatry, factors to consider when looking for a mental health professional to provide an accurate diagnosis and help reduce symptoms and other psychological disorders can include your health insurance coverage, the therapist's area of focus, safety concerns, and personal preferences. It may require some trial and error to discover which therapy modality works best for you. You may have better results if you find a therapist whose treatment plan matches your specific goals. The National Alliance on Mental Illness details several forms of therapy that can help treat depression.

Below are five different types of therapy for depression researched by medical reviewers that could help you develop coping skills and make positive changes in your life:
  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular evidence-based practice and effective form of therapy for people experiencing symptoms of depression. Empirically supported by countless peer-reviewed studies, this therapy modality aims to help people learn how to change their behaviors by first learning how to change their thoughts. 

CBT is based on the theory that our thoughts impact how we behave, which is a principle of early psychotherapy techniques like psychodynamic therapy/psychodynamic psychotherapy. Challenging thought patterns can help to address the base issue instead of just working on changing behavior.

Whether through individual therapy or as a group, patients tend to take an active role in CBT sessions. This involvement may help people maintain a sense of control throughout the process. When undergoing CBT for depression, anxiety disorders, or other mental health concerns, individuals generally keep written logs and complete homework in between sessions. As patients become better at recognizing negative thought patterns in their life, they can start taking steps to improve them through behavioral activation and create positive change in their lives. 

Many different types of therapy build off of the principles of CBT therapy to treat a variety of mood disorders and mental health conditions. For example, psychoanalytic therapy is a form of in-depth talk therapy where the therapist asks open-ended questions that may increase awareness of the thought patterns behind maladaptive behaviors. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is another form, which utilizes mindfulness meditation and self-awareness techniques as part of treatment. CBT works by combining talk therapy with learning new skills to change response patterns. 

  1. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is similar to CBT. It also aims to help people identify negative thoughts that produce undesired emotional and behavioral responses. Moreover, DBT tends to incorporate skills to increase tolerance of those negative emotions. It often focuses on teaching patients how to control emotions, tolerate stress, and work toward acceptance with behavioral activation. DBT also usually includes group therapy sessions, not just individual counseling.

  1. Light therapy for depression

Some people experience depression as a result of the change in seasons. They may be particularly sensitive to the decreased amount of daylight in the winter. This is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Light therapy is a form of treatment that is used for people experiencing SAD. They sit in front of a seasonal light therapy box designed to allow their body to reap the benefits that the sun normally provides. It's believed that this can help to address symptoms, particularly improving mood and sleep, by affecting the chemicals in the brain.

  1. Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

Having a solid social support system can be beneficial for people with depression. Interpersonal therapy, or interpersonal psychotherapy or IPT, doesn’t necessarily address the root causes of depression, but it can help to improve relationships for a person experiencing depression. When someone is experiencing moderate to severe depression, it's likely that their relationships, even with those closest to them, are also impacted. Feelings of depression can make it difficult to interact with friends and family in a positive way, but family therapists trained in IPT may be able to help you build interpersonal skills and resolve this challenge. Interpersonal therapy can also be a helpful treatment for a variety of other mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder.

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Relationships with family members, romantic partners, and friends can be impacted by the symptoms of depression. IPT allows the person to choose one or two behaviors they believe need improvement for their relationships. Then, the therapist typically focuses on these areas in relationship or family therapy sessions. 

  1. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)

Acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, can be beneficial to people with depression in several ways. Individuals receiving ACT typically learn how to “accept, choose, and take action.” ACT can also teach them how to be present in the moment instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. 

Lingering on past experiences can exasperate symptoms of depression and other mood disorders. In ACT therapy, they typically practice observing their feelings in a nonjudgmental way. This therapy modality also often helps people identify the aspects of life that are the most important to them and then act according to those values.

Treating depression with medication

Medication, including antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can be a helpful part of depression treatment. It is often used in addition to psychotherapy. If your therapist feels that medication may benefit you, they may refer you to a doctor or psychiatrist for a medication evaluation. 

The role of self-care

When it comes to overcoming depression, self-care may play a significant role in overcoming negative patterns and building positive ones. Here are some things that you can try when practicing self-care:

Make wise food decisions: What you eat can play a significant role in how you feel. You might try to eat a healthy and balanced diet each day. In some cases, depression can make it difficult to eat anything. This may be especially true for those who are experiencing comorbid eating disorders. 

Avoid harmful substances: Alongside making better dietary choices, it may also be important to limit or even eliminate your use of substances like alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics. Some people use substances as a way to cope with the symptoms of depression. While substance use may seem to provide a temporary sense of relief, it’s not a healthy treatment strategy in the long term.  A therapist may be able to help you overcome substance use and addiction. If you experience addiction or any form of substance use disorder, rehabilitation treatment is often recommended first.

Maintain a sleep schedule: Depression can negatively affect your sleep routine. To mitigate this symptom, you might try to go to bed at the same time each night and get up and out of bed in the morning. It may help to form a plan to avoid the urge to stay in bed all day or to stay up all night. 

Keep a journal: Journaling is often another effective treatment strategy and a healthy way to process your thoughts and emotions. Some people prefer to practice journaling at night so that they can get their thoughts out of their head before trying to fall asleep. Others like to start the day by journaling about things for which they’re thankful.

Exercise: Research shows that exercise can help relieve symptoms of depression. When you get moving, you release endorphins in your brain that can help to boost your mood. Exercise can also be a release for your negative thoughts and emotions. You don't have to do a full 30 minutes or hour of exercise each day to get the benefit. If all you can do is get moving for 10 minutes, even this may help relieve symptoms of depression. You can find an activity that suits your personal preferences and then aim to be consistent.

Get outdoors: The fresh air and sunshine tend to be natural mood boosters. If the weather is nice where you are, then you might try to get outside for a few minutes. Even if the weather isn't optimal, the fresh air can sometimes provide noticeable relief for symptoms of depression.

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There are many therapy options for depression

Online therapy can help treat depression

People experiencing debilitating symptoms of depression are sometimes hesitant to reach out for therapy in person. They may feel uncomfortable around people or even struggle to get out of bed to get ready for office-based appointments. In these cases, online therapy could be a better option. 

There has been substantial research conducted in recent years regarding the effectiveness of online counseling. One study found that individuals undergoing internet-based treatment for depression saw a significant reduction in symptoms. People living with depression may be able to make positive changes and improve their daily well being with the help of a licensed therapist whether online or in person. 

Takeaway

Just because you feel depressed right now doesn't mean you have to feel that way forever. You can look for a local therapist at one of the treatment facilities in your area. If you prefer, you can also reach out to an online therapist from our online directory at BetterHelp to begin working through your depression. With the right combination of treatments and self-care strategies, you may find that you can overcome depression and experience a better quality of life.

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