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Types of Psychotherapy for Depression


Updated October 17, 2012

Psychotherapy is often called "talk therapy" because it involves a patient and a psychotherapist sitting in a room talking, but it is much more than that. Psychotherapists have training in a variety of techniques which may be employed in order to help patients to recover from mental illness, resolve personal issues and create desired changes in their lives.

Psychotherapy can be an effective treatment for depression, because it helps the patient delve into the underlying reasons for his depression and learn new coping skills. Good evidence exists that one particular type of psychotherapy, called cognitive-behavioral therapy, may be just as effective as an antidepressant in treating depression. Several studies suggest, however, that the combination of an antidepressant and psychotherapy is the best approach. While psychotherapy is useful for ferreting out the psychological factors that contribute to depression, antidepressant medication corrects the underlying chemical imbalance.

Types of Psychotherapy for Depression

There are a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques which may be employed in the treatment of mental disorders, but the following are some of those more commonly used in the treatment of depression.

Cognitive Therapy

At the heart of cognitive therapy is the idea that our thoughts can affect our emotions. For example, if we choose to look for the silver lining in every experience we will be more likely to feel good than if we only focus upon the negative. Cognitive therapy helps patients to learn to identify certain common patterns of negative thinking, called cognitive distortions, and to turn those negative thought patterns into more positive ones, thus improving the patient's mood.


Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on changing undesired behaviors. It uses the principles of classical and operant conditioning in order to reinforce wanted behaviors while eliminating unwanted behaviors.


Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Because cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy work well together to help depression and anxiety disorders, the two are often combined in an approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Its main goal is to teach the patient skills to cope with stress, regulate emotions and improve relationships with others. Dialectical behavior therapy is derived from a philosophical process called dialectics. Dialectics is based upon the concept that everything is composed of opposites and that change occurs when one opposing force is stronger than the other, or in more academic terms: thesis, antithesis and synthesis.


Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is based upon the assumption that depression occurs because of unresolved -- usually unconscious -- conflicts, often originating from childhood. The goal of this type of therapy is for the patient to understand and better cope with these feelings by talking about the experiences which led to them.

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal therapy is a type of therapy which focuses on past and present social roles and interpersonal interactions. During treatment, the therapist generally chooses one or two problem areas in the patient's current life to focus on. Examples of areas covered are disputes with friends, family or co-workers, grief and loss and role transitions, such as retirement or divorce.


Types of Psychotherapy Formats

Individual Therapy

This modality involves one-on-one work between patient and therapist. It allows the patient to have the full attention of the therapist, but is limited in that it does not allow the therapist an opportunity to observe the patient within social or family relationships.

Family Therapy

This approach is most useful when it is necessary to work on dynamics within the family group.

Group Therapy

Group therapy generally involves anywhere from three to fifteen patients. It offers patients the opportunity to give and receive group support in coping with their particular issues as well as to observe how they interact in group settings. It may also be a less expensive alternative to individual therapy.

Couple's Therapy

This type of therapy is geared towards married couples and those in significant other situations who desire to improve their functioning as a couple.


"DBT Resources: What is DBT?" Behavioral Tech, LLC. 2003. Behavioral Tech, LLC. Accessed: January 30, 2008.

Ferri, Fred F. "Depression, Major." Ferri's Clinical Adviser. Ed. Mitchell D. Feldman. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.

"Interpersonal Therapy - An Overview." International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy Web Site. International Society for Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Accessed: January 30, 2008.

Jacobson, James L. and Alan M. Jacobson. Psychiatric Secrets. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA : Hanley & Belfus, Inc., 2001.

Pampallona S. et. al. "Combined pharmacotherapy and psychological treatment for depression: a systematic review." Archives of General Psychiatry 61.7 (2004) : 714-9.

Rupke, Stuart J., David Blecke, Marjorie Renfrow. "Cognitive Therapy for Depression." American Family Physician. 73.1 (January 2006):83-6.

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