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Psychotherapy and Depression

        Health | Depression Questions

How Does Psychotherapy Work?

How does psychotherapy help people recover from depression?

There are several approaches to psychotherapy - including cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal, psychodynamic and other kinds of "talk therapy" - that help depressed people recover. Psychotherapy offers people the opportunity to identify the factors that contribute to their depression and to deal effectively with the psychological, behavioral, interpersonal and situational causes. Skilled therapists such as licensed psychologists can work with depressed people to:

  • Pinpoint the life problems that contribute to their depression, and help them understand which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve. A trained therapist can help depressed patients identify options for the future and set realistic goals that enable him or her to enhance their mental and emotional well-being. Therapists also help people identify how they have successfully dealt with similar feelings, if they have been depressed in the past.
  • Identify negative or distorted thinking patterns that contribute to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that accompany depression. For example, depressed people may tend to overgeneralize, that is, to think of circumstances in terms of "always" or "never." They may also take events personally. A trained and competent therapist can help nurture a more positive outlook on life.
  • Explore other learned thoughts and behaviors that create problems and contribute to depression. For example, therapists can help depressed people understand and improve patterns of interacting with other people that contribute to their depression.
  • Help people regain a sense of control and pleasure in life. Psychotherapy helps people see choices as well as gradually incorporate enjoyable, fulfilling activities back into their lives.

Having one episode of depression greatly increases the risk of having another episode. There is some evidence that ongoing psychotherapy may lessen the chance of future episodes or reduce their intensity. Through therapy, people can learn skills to avoid unnecessary suffering from later bouts of depression.

In what other ways do therapists help depressed people and their loved ones?

The support and involvement of family and friends can play a crucial role in helping someone who is depressed. People in the "support system" can help by encouraging a depressed loved one to stick with treatment and to practice the coping techniques and problem-solving skills he or she is learning through psychotherapy.

Living with a depressed person can be very difficult and stressful on family members and friends. The pain of watching a loved one suffer from depression can bring about feelings of helplessness and loss. Family or marital therapy may be beneficial in bringing together all the individuals affected by depression and helping them learn effective ways to cope together. This type of psychotherapy can also provide a good opportunity for individuals who have never experienced depression themselves to learn more about it and to identify constructive ways of supporting a loved one who is suffering from depression.

Are medications useful for treating depression?

Medications can be very helpful for reducing the symptoms of depression in some people, particularly for cases of moderate to severe depression. Some healthcare providers treating depression may favor using a combination of psychotherapy and medications. Given the side effects, any use of medication requires close monitoring by the physician who prescribes the drugs.

Some depressed people may prefer psychotherapy to the use of medications, especially if their depression is not severe. By conducting a thorough assessment, a licensed and trained mental health professional can help make recommendations about an effective course of treatment for a person's depression.

Depression can seriously impair a person's ability to function in everyday situations. But the prospects for recovery for depressed people who seek appropriate professional care are very good. By working with a qualified and experienced therapist, those suffering from depression can help regain control of their lives.

Copyright © 1997 by the American Psychological Association. All rights reserved.

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