Health & Wellness Articles

Types of Psychotherapy for Depression

Which Treatment is Right for You?

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So you've realized you’ve got a problem with depression. Now what? What kind of professional help do you need, and where do you find it?

If you’re like most people, the first thought that comes to mind when you think about treating depression probably involves medication. It certainly would be wonderful if the illness that afflicts 17 million American adults every year could be cured by a simple visit to the doctor and a prescription. However, the evidence is clear that this dream has not yet become reality.

The consensus among health professionals is that major depression is a complex, “biopsychosocial” illness, and that treating all three of these dimensions (biological, psychological and social) is necessary for most people. For a small minority, medication alone may be enough to quickly end a current depressive episode. But for many, medication isn't enough. Studies show that your chances for avoiding or minimizing the effects of future depressive episodes will be greater if you get the help you need to recognize and manage the patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that make major depression so debilitating.

Research also shows that the most effective treatment plan for most people includes eight to 12 weeks of weekly psychotherapy, either with or without medication. This article will explain the most common types of psychotherapy, which all have proven track records for helping people deal with the psychological and social dimensions of depression. Use this as a guide when deciding which type might be best for you.

Psychotherapy: What It Is & How It Helps
About 100 years ago, Sigmund Freud described psychotherapy as the “talking cure.” Although current forms of therapy bear very little resemblance to his approach, the emphasis on talking as a cure does help illustrate how psychotherapy differs from other types of medical treatment. When you go to your doctor’s office, your “job” is mainly to describe the symptoms you’re having. Once you’ve done that, it’s pretty much up to the doctor to come up with a diagnosis, present a treatment plan, and carry it out if you accept it. Your words are simply used by the doctor in order to find the right cure.

The situation is very different in psychotherapy. Your words play a much more central role. In fact, it’s fair to say that you are both the doctor and the patient, and that you cure yourself by changing the way you talk and think about the problems you are having. The therapist’s job is to support and guide you through the process of looking at your own thoughts, feelings and actions, determining how well they are working for you, and changing the ones you decide you want to change. A good therapist will provide encouragement, emotional support, and a variety of techniques and tools to help you keep this process moving along as productively as possible. But basically, you’re doing the work, making the decisions, and producing the results yourself. Nothing is being done “to” you.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I find it quite pathetic that it is ok with society to accept a sentence such as "It certainly would be wonderful if the illness that afflicts 17 million American adults every year could be cured by a simple visit to the doctor and a prescription." as ok.... The fact that society relies so heavily on a "magic pill" for all it's problems is sad.

    I'm all for therapy if it's done right, but the fact is that most therapists only care about adding you to the list of people in this country dependent on a man-made substance to make it all better.... - 7/8/2015 3:28:44 PM
  • Finally an article that I consider excellent. Just throwing meds at depression does not cure the depression, it just numbs it down so you don't care about it or care why you have it. Hopefully soon, physicians will get back to really helping people who have had bouts of depression and anxiety, me being one of them. The meds were a nightmare I will never forget. I only took them for a very very short time, and ended up in the hospital with a dangerous serotonin syndrome episode that could have killed me.

    Many many recover with CBT. It's retraining your habitual thought processes and yes, absolutely we have control over that. Once you realize you do have control, you can get well, the relief is amazing. Depression is not a life long illness and not a doctor on the planet can prove that. Also, there is not a doctor on the planet can prove is has anything to do with a chemical imbalance in the brain. Ask them to prove that and their eyes roll back in their heads. That was debunked years ago. - 1/13/2015 7:13:59 PM
    Thanks for explaining the different yet complex forms of psychotherapy.

    I was never presented with these types of explanations on each. I have seen at least 3 people; and most recently decided to stop seeing the last person but felt bad that I was not going to see her anymore...more because I feel that I was back to point A with my depression, however, after reading your article, I can resonate more with the two types I know will do me good! I know now that I will be looking for help and seeing the qualifications/ex
    perience to feel better of the type of therapy I will have! Big ah-ha moment for me!

    I will meet with my health care provider before the end of the month...looking forward to to this visit, my doctor, and will bring up my concerns with depression and treatment I have had in the past. This article couldn't have come to at a better time than now!

    I have more confidence to ask questions at this visit soon. There is something more that can be done by me with the right therapy; not just taking a drug to treat depression! That is powerful to know and there is quite some work ahead for me to do, but I am excited to know more of my options; this is also liberating.

    Thank you again!

    *** Blessings to all who have written a comment on this article as well! Your comments encouraged me to leave a comment *** - 2/13/2013 10:28:06 PM
  • Great article! I wanted to comment to let folks know that CBT has worked amazingly well for me, even though my depression is severe and has been recurring over a long period of time. I was able to work my way out of my most recent depressive episode with the help of my therapist, and am optimistic that I am better-equipped to deal with episodes in the future. I agree that trust and feeling comfortable with your therapist are absolutely key. - 7/20/2012 6:15:00 PM
  • Lil pinguino, I sent you an email. - 1/30/2011 5:49:44 AM
  • if i dont have insurance, are there places that offer free counseling? - 3/28/2010 3:37:34 PM
  • I have to say...this article was excellent. I usually find this expert's articles enlightening and this one was exceptionally so. I have had bouts of mild-moderate depression for several years and now realize that they are often triggered by specific events-like catastrophic relationships. His descriptions of the different types of therapy were fascinating and have triggered my interest in perhaps returning to a counselor. - 1/9/2010 11:24:18 AM
  • This was a very helpful article for me. A few months ago, I decided to go see a therapist because I knew I was suffering from post-partum depression, and it was starting to take a toll on my mental health, patience with my son, and patience with my husband. I have good relationships with my parents, siblings, in-laws, husband, and friends, so what I was looking for was a set of tools to use to control the suicidal/irration
    al thoughts.

    I realize now that I went in thinking I would be getting CBT. The therapist I was seeing was a family and marriage counselor, so she must have been trained in IPT. So the reason I wasn't getting much out of the sessions was that she was trying to get at some sort of messed up important personal relationship, and I was looking for those tools. No wonder something didn't feel quite right! I left after about 8 sessions.

    Now I know to look for a CBT therapist if I end up needing one in the future. - 7/27/2009 3:03:13 PM
  • Very Interesting article. I just completed a brief program that hit on all of these topics. - 6/14/2009 8:40:14 PM
  • SHERI1969
    This is very true and I wish everybody on this site would read this article; especially the people who don't think their emotions are within their control. I used to think that way but years of therapy and medication have helped. I'm not cured, but I'm at a decent level. Great article! - 1/20/2009 11:41:14 PM
  • Great article. I like Dr. Phil's method "You are fat because you want to be." WOW, when he said that I thought he was crazy, but as I listened, I had to admit that it did have a "pay-off" and was serving a purpose in my life and that I first had to acknowledge the problem before I could change it. Just wasn't until I found SPARKPEOPLE that I had the tools to make it all work. - 3/30/2008 1:24:41 PM
  • Treatments that target behavior, in my experience are the most effective. Especially if they are used in conjunction with medication. I believe my medication is what allows me to modify my own behavior.
    Lynn - 2/11/2008 10:51:53 AM
    Thanks, Coach Dean, for explaining the complexity of psychotherapy with such depth and clarity! - 1/13/2008 9:35:53 AM

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