Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is one of the most common treatments for major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as clinical depression or severe depression. It’s often used in a treatment plan in combination with medication. During talk therapy, you meet with a trained mental health professional — such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed therapist — to talk about your MDD and how it affects your life.
Depending on your case, your therapist may choose a specific type of psychotherapy to help you work through your past, learn new coping skills, and live the fullest life possible. Mental health professionals commonly use five types of psychotherapy to treat MDD. Each type focuses on different approaches and skill sets for living with depression.
In addition to different types of talk therapy, there are different formats:
MyDepressionTeam members sometimes discuss their experiences with different types of talk therapy — or seek advice from others. One asked, “Has anyone here tried dialectical behavior therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy? I have tried every medication on the market and transcranial magnetic stimulation, with no results. Any helpful suggestions out there?”
In this article, we’ll discuss five types of therapy used to treat MDD. You can work closely with your medical team and therapist to determine which option is best for you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of talk therapy used to treat MDD. CBT follows a set structure (unlike other forms of therapy) to help people with depression become more in touch with their emotions and thoughts. CBT is based on several core principles, with a focus on addressing inaccurate or negative thoughts that you have about yourself and your environment.
During CBT, your therapist will help you address these thoughts and replace them with new ways of thinking. This form of talk therapy is driven by conversations with your therapist, and it can bring up your past, traumas, and fears. It takes time to change your internal monologue and thoughts, so most people take part in between five and 20 therapy sessions.
CBT is recommended for helping people who have certain thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that contribute to MDD. While you can’t control every situation in life, you can control how you react to them. CBT gives you coping skills and helps you change your thinking to better deal with stressful or difficult situations that contribute to your depression.
MyDepressionTeam members have discussed their successes with CBT. One member shared, “CBT has done wonders for me. Lots of online resources as well as books from the library.”
“I just had one year of weekly CBT sessions with my clinical psychologist. I found it helped me immensely with dealing with my major depression,” shared another.
Depression often affects others around you, which can put a strain on personal and social relationships. Interpersonal therapy (IPT) is talk therapy designed to help you improve your communication skills with your family, friends, and coworkers and address your MDD. Studies show that IPT is effective for treating depression that can be used alone or with antidepressant medication.
IPT focuses on identifying more immediate causes of your MDD and how they affect your relationships. This talk therapy can help address depression caused by recent changes in your life, such as losing a job, moving, or ending a relationship. By identifying what’s causing your MDD, your therapist can help you develop new skills for handling your emotions and interacting with those around you.
Because IPT is often started after a major life event, it’s usually a short-term treatment lasting between three to four months. If you’d like to continue another type of talk therapy afterward, your therapist can help you decide which one is best for your situation.
Closely related to CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is talk therapy designed to help people who experience very intense emotions. Although it’s often used for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it’s also been shown to be an effective treatment for MDD.
There are four core principles that therapists teach during DBT:
During DBT, your therapist will help you find balance in accepting your life and behaviors while also providing you with the tools to make changes and address unhelpful behaviors. This type of therapy focuses on teaching you better ways to cope with intense or negative emotions that have led to major depressive episodes in the past.
Therapists offer DBT in individual and group settings. However, this is different from group therapy — the therapist teaches lessons based on new skills in a classroom setting rather than facilitating conversations between members.
DBT has helped many MyDepressionTeam members. “I finally completed my DBT group. I feel like I learned many new behaviors, I just need to remember when to use the skills to my advantage,” one member shared.
As its name suggests, problem-solving therapy helps you develop skills to identify and solve problems as they come up in life. No matter the size of your problem, it’s important to be able to manage stressful situations in life in healthy ways.
Your therapist will help you focus on problems in the present rather than in the past. They’ll also help you keep a positive attitude when coming up with solutions, since you’ll continue to face problems throughout your life. You may learn how to identify a problem, understand it, and then tackle it without a negative outlook that may contribute to MDD.
Problem-solving therapy teaches you to identify what triggers your major depression and gives you the confidence and skills to handle your problems without it feeling impossible. Studies show that this therapy can effectively help treat MDD in as few as six sessions.
For some people, the past can influence their emotions in the present. Psychodynamic therapy helps people work through their major depression caused by unresolved trauma or conflicts, usually from childhood. By addressing your past, you can better understand why you think in a certain way or feel particular emotions. You can take these new insights and apply them to your present life.
Psychodynamic therapy can also help improve your relationships with family and friends that may be affected by your unconscious thoughts and behaviors. Your therapist will help you recognize patterns that may be contributing to these thoughts and behaviors and give you the tools to change them.
Talk therapy is most effective when it’s used along with antidepressant medications, such as:
Your medical team will work together to help you find the right combination of medication and therapy to help you break through your depression. If your treatment isn’t as effective as you need it to be, there are several other treatment options available.
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