Depression is one of the most misused medical terms nowadays. The media, and society in general, quite easily interchange the terms sadness and depression. Anyone who’s sad is “depressed.” However, depression is so much more than that.
Medically known as major depressive disorder, depression is a diagnosable condition that significantly impacts your productivity, relationships, and well-being. As such, it’s not something that you can just “shake off.”
Depression is also far more common than you can imagine. According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 17 million American adults experience clinical depression in any one-year period.¹
Fortunately, there are treatments available for depression that can be highly effective, including therapy. Therapy can be used as a standalone treatment or in combination with others, such as medication.
How does therapy help in the treatment of depression? Read on to find out, as well as learn more about depression.
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Depression is a medical condition that affects your mood and your ability to perform your daily tasks. It’s often accompanied by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and irritability. It is common for people with depression to feel anxious, overwhelmed, and disconnected.
Depression also affects your:
Ability to think clearly
Eating habits (eating more or less)
Sleeping habits (sleeping more or less)
Enjoyment of hobbies or activities (anhedonia)
Motivation or drive to do anything
The symptoms of depression are similar to the type of sadness you may experience from grief, loss, or illness. Under normal circumstances, these symptoms usually go away, and you find yourself functioning at the same level as before.
With clinical depression, however, these symptoms remain for an indeterminate period and can even intensify without any direct cause, affecting your daily functioning, relationships, and well-being.
Depression can be diagnosed by a mental healthcare professional such as a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. Your family doctor may also be able to diagnose depression in some instances. Generally, depression is explored as a diagnosis when someone experiences symptoms that significantly interfere with their quality of life on most days for at least two weeks.
It is common for people to go for extended periods with untreated depression, mainly because they (or their loved ones) don’t recognize or admit that they need help. At this stage, other symptoms of depression may also emerge. These include:
Withdrawing from family and friends
Thoughts of death and suicide
Difficulty performing at work, home, or school
Struggling to get out of bed and do basic tasks
Without medical care, it is possible for depression to worsen. In severe cases, it may lead to self-harm and even death.
If you’re feeling depressed or notice a loved one displaying the symptoms, there are some things you should understand.
First, depression is not something you can just shake off or get over with. It is a medical condition brought about by dysfunction and imbalances in the brain.
Second, admitting depression and asking for help is not a weakness. Depression is an illness that has many effective treatment options to help significantly reduce symptoms.
To alleviate symptoms of depression, healthcare professionals may prescribe antidepressant medications. These can be very helpful to reduce symptoms, like insomnia or anxiety.
For an ideal outcome, however, it is always recommended to seek interventions that include therapy. Psychotherapy for depression is a reliable and scientifically validated way to not only reduce symptoms of depression but also prevent future episodes.
Psychotherapy involves speaking with a mental health professional who has been trained in specific techniques to address the underlying patterns and behaviors that contribute to mental illness or less than optimal functioning in life.
This option is especially effective if someone has experienced trauma, has a lot of stressors, and is seeking a path to improved wellness.
During the sessions, the therapist will help you pinpoint some root causes of your negative thoughts. They will guide you in establishing new habits that will help you accept these events and adapt to their consequences.
Together with the therapist, you will:
Identify unhelpful behaviors contributing to your feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
Better understand the symptoms you experience
Identify symptoms and coping mechanisms to prevent future episodes of depression
Develop skills to help you cope with depression and other challenges you may be facing
Learn how to communicate your experience with others
Set realistic goals and create accountability
Psychotherapy offers skill-building that not only helps you reduce symptoms during a depressive episode, but also enhances your ability to deal with future challenges more effectively. As such, it is very effective and has a long-term impact.
Depending on the symptoms, combinations of different forms of therapy may be used. These can include the following:
1. Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on negative or dysfunctional views that can cause or worsen depressive symptoms. CBT focuses on identifying and reframing:
Negative thoughts about yourself
Negative views about the world
Negative thoughts about your future
The above is what is called the cognitive triad. It is common for people who have experienced struggles to develop unhelpful coping mechanisms and negative world views that contribute to unhealthy patterns. It can often manifest as low self-esteem, feeling worthless, and having trouble communicating your own needs.
CBT aims to help you identify negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviors and inaccurate beliefs that fuel your depression. From there, your therapist will help you change them and develop positive ways of interacting with your world.
CBT can be very effective for the treatment of depression and anxiety.
2. Interpersonal therapy
With depression, how you relate with people always comes to play. Depression can bring a great deal of strain into your interpersonal relationships, which can often worsen symptoms.
As such, addressing such issues through interpersonal therapy (IPT) helps treat depression and can effectively improve your support system.
IPT aims to help you improve how you relate with others. It enables you to express your emotions better, solve problems in healthier ways, and overcome challenges such as isolation and unfulfilling relationships.
Some of the benefits of IPT include:
Improving your social skills
Enabling you to adapt to or resolve challenging life events
Enhancing your capacity to cope with life stressors and depressive symptoms
Enhancing your social support network and fulfillment from relationships
3. Psychodynamic therapy
Childhood experiences and unhealthy thoughts can significantly contribute to depression. Psychodynamic therapy aims to address these underlying thoughts and beliefs, which are collectively called unconscious thoughts.
Therapy sessions generally involve free association, where you talk freely about your hopes, dreams, fears, and experiences. The therapist will help you gain awareness of your behavior patterns, repressed emotions, and thoughts.
Ultimately, with this kind of therapy, you are encouraged to gain skills that help you analyze and resolve your issues through deep exploration into the contributing factors and necessary behavior change.
4. Supportive therapy
Supportive therapy is a term used to describe therapy that integrates various techniques with the primary goal to provide you with effective support. In sessions, you are encouraged to vent your feelings in a safe space where you can be heard and your concerns validated.
Supportive therapists are less likely to interject with solutions or strategies; therefore, this type of therapy is best for people who are in need of an empathetic outlet. Therapy sessions may also include discussing healthy coping mechanisms and strategies for overcoming symptoms.
5. Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy is a form of CBT that has a more structured approach. It helps regulate emotions and is often used with people who have:
Chronic suicidal thoughts
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Through dialectical behavior therapy sessions, you’ll learn how to better deal with difficult emotional experiences, cope during a crisis, improve interpersonal interactions, and gain skills in mindfulness and stress reduction.
6. Other therapeutic techniques
Depression is a broad condition. As such, numerous interventions can be used depending on the person’s unique factors. Other interventions that can be used include:
Creative arts therapy: Dance, art, drama, poetry, or music therapy will be used in sessions.
Animal-assisted therapy: Animals will be used during therapy, such as horses, dogs, and cats, among others.
Mindfulness/meditation: Mindfulness-based skills training is used to induce mental calm and enhance coping skills.
Group therapy: Guided sessions are conducted with people who share similar experiences and seek out wellness.
Millions of Americans experience depression every year. Understanding that this disorder is widespread, has underlying physiological causes, and is treatable can help you better deal with depression if you experience it. Developing effective coping skills in therapy can also help you prevent future episodes.
Even if you cannot prevent depression, many effective treatment options can help. Whether solo or in combination with other treatments for depression, therapy can go a long way to improve your quality of life in the long term.