What types of psychotherapy can help treat depression?

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Dr. John Preston, PsyD
Psychology Specialist

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) focuses on how people interact with others. IPT’s aim is to help people explore their important relationships, understand how their depression may be affecting their relationships and, in turn, explore how interpersonal issues may be affecting their emotional state.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a relatively recent form of therapy that combines behavioral therapy with mindfulness and personal values work. ACT therapists believe that one reason people feel depressed is that they become so entangled with their stories about themselves (for example, “I’m a failure,” “I’m a loser,” “I’m too fat” or “I’m too shy to make friends”) that they lose track of their personal values and life goals. ACT uses meditation and mindfulness techniques to help people stay in the moment with their life experiences, rather than spin off into negative or unhelpful stories

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a treatment designed to help those who have trouble regulating their emotions. Originally developed for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, DBT has also shown promise in treating depression. The major goal of DBT is to minimize or eliminate self-harming behaviors by teaching people the skills needed to tolerate the emotional discomfort that causes them to turn to self-harm or, in a worst-case scenario, suicide. A DBT practitioner will teach you how to accept contradictory thoughts at the same time—specifically, how to accept yourself with all of your problems and issues while also understanding that you will need to change some of your behaviors and thought patterns to function in healthier ways. 

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The following forms of therapy may be comparable in effectiveness to treatment with tricyclic antidepressants for mild-to-moderate and major depression.

  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a brief, standardized (15–20 sessions) treatment approach that emphasizes the relationships between mood and experiences in the person's interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is a brief, standardized (15–20 sessions) treatment approach that emphasizes the relationships between mood and experiences in the person's interpersonal relationships. IPT intervention consists of identifying and ameliorating difficulties in interpersonal functioning associated with the patient's current depression. The therapist helps the patient recognize associations between mood and interpersonal experiences in one of four potential problem areas: unresolved grief, interpersonal disputes, difficult role transitions, and interpersonal deficits (e.g., social isolation or inadequate social skills.)
  • Psychodynamic-interpersonal psychotherapy is similar to IPT but makes more use of the relationship between therapist and client in the therapeutic work.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a directive, structured form of psychotherapy in which the therapist uses a variety of techniques to help individuals modify negative, maladaptive ways of thinking. Therapy sessions typically consist of a review of material from the previous session including homework assignments, planning, specific tasks, and the assignment of homework. Initial sessions generally emphasize the recognition of maladaptive thoughts, with later sessions focused on the testing and modification of erroneous assumptions (e.g., "If I make a mistake, it means I am a failure.").
Dr. Robert Farra, PhD
Psychiatrist (Therapist)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is very effective in treating depression. Using CBT we help patients change their often negative patterns of thinking and behavior that may be contributing to the depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been widely researched and has been shown to be most effective in the resolution of depression. It is based on the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and our behavior, not external things, like people, situations, and events. The benefit of this type of therapy is that it puts the power to improve things in the hand of patient. We can change the way we think to feel/act better even if the people or situations do not change.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Work with a cognitive behavioral therapist if you suffer from stress, anxiety or depression. If you know you have a tendency towards any of these conditions, it's important to get the right help at the right time. If you had to find your way out of foreign country where you didn't know the language or customs, it's true you could buy a compass and try to chart your way. Or, you could actually hire an interpreter who is familiar with the land, its people, and traditions, someone who knows where the airports and train stations are. A cognitive behavioral therapist is extremely versed in the ways that these conditions work. Such a therapist can help you create the lifestyle that you need to avoid the pitfalls that any of these states of being can present.

Where medication targets mood, talk therapy targets behavior. Studies have proved that therapy can be quite effective. In fact, therapy has brought some out of depression without the help of medication at all. Doctors agree, however, that talk therapy works best when the patient uses even a small amount of medication as well. 

Therapists help individuals learn coping strategies, educate them about how others react to trauma and help them see which of their behaviors work and which don't. Mood elevates as the motivated client makes positive behavioral changes. The support the therapist provides also reduces the patient's stress, improving brain chemistry.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

Most psychotherapies adopt the perspective that depression is a clinical disorder to be eliminated without considering the meaning or context of the symptoms. Therapy is usually focused on clarifying the client's impairments and working toward eliminating them. These approaches therefore keep the focus on clients' impairment rather than their strengths.

The practice of strength-based assessment encourages clinicians to pay attention to the strengths of the clients in addition to their impairments and disorders. The theory of strength-based assessment doesn't challenge the existence of an impairment. Rather, strength-based assessment looks for strengths alongside the diagnosis or impairment.

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Dr. Marsha Lucas
Psychology Specialist

Not all psychotherapy is the same. Neuropsychologist Marsha Lucas, PhD, explains how cognitive behavioral therapy can be especially effective for mild depression, and some type of talk therapy should be part of any depression treatment.


Dr. Julie Hanks, PhD, LCSW, Social HealthMaker
Marriage & Family Therapy Specialist
Many types of psychotherapy can effectively treat depression, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, group therapy, and couple and family therapy. A combination of medication and psychotherapy are often most effective in treating depression. Additionally, lifestyle changes such as regular aerobic exercise, good sleep habits, healthy eating, and regular social activities can improve mood.

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counseling, can take many forms, many of which can be very helpful and therapeutic for someone with depression.

There are many types of talk therapy across the world, and new therapies being developed and studied. Some of these may be very effective for you. The two types of therapy that have proven to be especially effective in treating depression are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which works to change negative styles of thinking and behaving that may contribute to depression. It combines cognitive therapy, which helps patients develop healthier thought patterns and behavior therapy, which helps patients respond in new ways to difficult life situations.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT), which works to change relationships that cause or exacerbate depression.

Talk therapy can be hard work. It is important that you go to all of your scheduled appointments on time and keep actively involved in the process.

Continue Learning about Psychotherapy To Treat Mental Illness

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.