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Can cognitive behavior therapy help treat depression?

Cognitive Behavior Therapy Techniques

Key components of cognitive behavior therapy include:

Journal writing. According to researchers at WebMD, "many people find that adding structure to the day can help with the symptoms of depression." Getting on a regular schedule -- mapping out each day -- can alleviate some of the anxiety that afflicts depression patients. But with CBT, the planner is also a journal, helping patients track their moods throughout the day, identifying what factors elicit certain responses. Over the course of several weeks, the journal may reveal patterns that would otherwise be difficult to decipher on a daily basis [source: WebMD].

Coping skills. Since CBT is an "educational" approach to depression, a critical element is problem solving. By working with a therapist, patients are able to recognize obstacles and learn techniques to deal with the patterns of depression that arise. Essentially, these are the tools to help the patient address his or her depression head on. So, instead of thinking the worse will inevitably happen, a patient is taught to recognize that negative pattern and find more positive alternatives. For example, rather than avoid a weekend camping trip because of the possibility that it might rain, patients can learn to acquire the correct gear that will allow them to enjoy the great outdoors no matter what Mother Nature brings to the forecast.

Behavioral activation. One of the key "coping skills," behavioral activation is a technique employed to help patients overcome the debilitating inertia that often comes hand-in-hand with depression. Since depressed people often have low self-esteem, they are more prone to stop doing the activities they once enjoyed. Behavioral activation is intended to reverse that trend by scheduling those activities (often with other like-minded folks who can reinforce the positive aspect), giving those activities a priority, and identifying and removing any obstacles to those activities.

Since a primary goal of CBT is to empower patients to recognize and take control of their own individual circumstances, the homework aspect is critical in taking ownership as the patient moves toward recovery.