A young woman has seen an improvement in depression symptoms since starting CBT.

CBT Can Improve Depression Symptoms

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people with depression change their negative thoughts and learn coping skills. Learn more about CBT for depression here.


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How CBT treats depression

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors in people who struggle with depression, a mental health condition. It helps people identify and challenge their unhelpful thoughts and beliefs and teaches them new coping skills to better manage their moods and emotions. In CBT, people work with a therapist to develop personalized strategies for overcoming depression, which may include setting realistic goals, practicing relaxation techniques, and gradually exposing themselves to activities they have been avoiding. Through this process, people can learn to break the cycle of negative thinking and behavior that contributes to their depression and develop healthier ways of thinking and coping.

Skills taught in CBT for depression

These CBT interventions, when applied consistently and effectively, can help a person manage and alleviate symptoms of depression, leading to improved overall mental health and well-being.

Goal setting

The person learns how to set realistic and achievable goals for themselves, which can help them regain control and accomplishment in their lives.

Identifying negative thinking patterns

The individual learns how to recognize and challenge negative thoughts that contribute to their depression. By doing so, they can begin to shift their perspective and improve their mood.

Behavioral activation

This skill involves engaging in positive activities and behaviors, even when feeling low or unmotivated. By participating in enjoyable and fulfilling activities, the person can increase their overall mood and decrease depressive symptoms.


The person learns how to effectively troubleshoot and address challenges in their lives, which can reduce feelings of helplessness and hopelessness often associated with depression.

Relaxation techniques

The individual may be taught various relaxation exercises in a CBT session, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, to help manage feelings of anxiety and tension associated with depression.

Cognitive restructuring

This skill involves challenging and reframing cognitive distortions and beliefs about oneself and the world, ultimately promoting a more positive and balanced outlook.

Assertiveness training

The person may learn how to effectively communicate their needs and boundaries in relationships, which can improve self-esteem and overall well-being.

Mindfulness and meditation

This skill involves practicing present-moment awareness and acceptance, which can help reduce rumination and increase emotional regulation in depression.

Benefits of CBT for depression

People who engage in CBT for depression may experience long-term benefits such as improved coping skills, greater self-awareness, and a reduction in negative thought patterns. These changes can lead to a decrease in depressive symptoms and an overall improvement in mental well-being. Additionally, people who have undergone CBT treatment may be better equipped to manage future challenges and stressors, leading to a decreased likelihood of experiencing future depressive episodes.

How quickly does CBT work for depression? 

Research shows that for many people, CBT can be effective in reducing depression symptoms relatively quickly. Some people may start to notice improvements in their mood and overall well-being within a few weeks of working with a CBT therapist. It’s important for people to stick with the treatment and actively engage in the process to experience the full benefits of CBT treatment.

How is medication used to treat depression?

Medication is commonly used to treat depression by helping to regulate the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and norepinephrine. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil are often prescribed to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce symptoms. Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like Cymbalta and Effexor work on both serotonin and norepinephrine levels, while tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) are older classes of medications that are typically used when other treatments have been unsuccessful. These different medications can be crucial in helping people manage their symptoms and regain a sense of well-being.

Other types of treatment for depression

Mindfulness-based therapy

This therapy focuses on teaching people to be present in the moment and to accept their thoughts and feelings without judgment. It involves practicing mindfulness meditation and other techniques to help manage symptoms of depression.

Interpersonal therapy

Interpersonal therapy helps people improve their relationships and communication skills, which can, in turn, alleviate depression symptoms. It focuses on addressing interpersonal issues and making changes in relationships to improve mood and overall well-being.

Exercise therapy

While not a form of psychotherapy or a replacement for talk therapy, regular physical activity has been shown to be effective in reducing depression symptoms. Engaging in exercise can help boost mood, reduce anxiety, and improve overall physical and mental health. It can be used as a standalone therapy or as a complement to other forms of depression treatment.

IOP for depression

An intensive outpatient program (IOP) is used to treat depression when a person requires more support than traditional talk therapy can provide but does not need to be hospitalized. IOP allows people to attend therapy and support groups several times a week while still being able to live at home. This type of depression treatment works by providing structured support and education in a variety of therapeutic modalities, such as group therapy, individual therapy, and family therapy. It also may include medication management and incorporate CBT techniques to help people manage their symptoms and improve their mental health.

Treatment for depression at Charlie Health 

If a young person in your life is struggling with depression, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health offers a virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) that provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with complex mental health conditions, including depression. Our expert clinicians incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic treatment, managing depression is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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