What Are The Most Effective Types Of Counseling For Depression?

Updated February 1, 2023by ReGain Editorial Team

Depression is an extremely common mental health condition that affects people of all ages, genders, socioeconomic groups, and walks of life. It's estimated that 16% of US people will experience diagnosable major depressive disorder (MDD) throughout their lifetimes.

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Depression causes many symptoms, including a sense of hopelessness and sadness, difficulty maintaining relationships, and a loss of interest in activities. Fortunately, depression is highly treatable in most cases. But there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for everyone with depression. The experience of having depression can be as unique as the individual who has it.

Studies have suggested that therapy can be an effective treatment on its own for many people. For others, a combination of therapy and medication may be most beneficial. Since there are many types of counseling for depression out there, you may be wondering which type is the most effective. Since there's no one-size-fits-all approach, different types of counseling can benefit different people. The following types of counseling have the most evidence and research backing their efficacy.

What Is Depression?

Before we discuss which types of counseling have proven to be effective for treating depression, it helps to understand how depression is defined as a condition.

Everyone gets the blues from time to time. Whether it's after a break-up, a job loss, the death of a loved one, or during another challenging time in our lives, we may feel sadness, discouragement, or irritability. During these times, it can be difficult to get through our day. Usually, these periods resolve on their own with the help of our loved ones and friends.

For someone with depression, negative feelings and thoughts become the new normal. We constantly feel sad, hopeless, worthless, or numb. Our minds endlessly race with worries or doubts about ourselves. We become tired, withdrawn, and lose our energy and passion for life. These symptoms last for weeks, months, or longer and often need professional assistance to resolve.

Symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD), the most common type of depression, include:

  • Feeling sad, worthless, hopeless, or numb for most of the day, almost every day.
  • Losing interest in regular activities and hobbies.
  • Difficulty connecting with other people, social isolation.
  • Loss of energy, weakness, fatigue.
  • Even small tasks take much more effort than normal.
  • Trouble falling asleep or requiring much more sleep than usual.
  • Persistently negative thoughts about yourself and the world.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering.
  • Loss of appetite or frequent hunger with strong cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle tension, or slowed motor functioning.

If you've been experiencing some or all of the symptoms listed above for two weeks or more, you may qualify for a diagnosis of depression. Contact your doctor or mental health professional to be schedule an evaluation.

Once you've been diagnosed with depression, the following types of therapy can be of benefit.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most researched form of talk therapy, with a lot of clinical evidence pointing to its effectiveness in treating depression and anxiety. It is sometimes referred to as the "gold standard" in psychotherapy because it has the most evidence to support it.

CBT involves recognizing negative thinking patterns and the emotional states and behaviors influenced by that type of thinking. When an individual is experiencing depression, their thoughts are hijacked to skew negatively. First, the therapist guides the individual to recognize their cognitive distortions. Then, the patient is taught to replace their automatic negative thoughts with positive statements.

Since most of us don't analyze our thoughts as they occur, we believe that these distorted assumptions are true. In this way, depression lies to us and manipulates the way we view the world. By catching these thoughts and looking at them with a critical eye, we're able to separate reality from depression's influence.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Originally developed to treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), DBT has been effective for other conditions, including depression. DBT is best for people who have difficulty with extreme emotions. With DBT, a therapist identifies deficits in emotional skills and coping behaviors and rectifies these missing elements through teaching and guidance.

DBT is a form of cognitive therapy, but the focus is on managing your emotions instead of just changing your thoughts. The name comes from dialectics, a theory that states that everything has an opposite, and change happens when one side exhibits a stronger pull than the other.

DBT involves four types of strategies for changing behavior:

  • Mindfulness: Awareness of the present moment without judgment.
  • Distress Tolerance: The ability to tolerate difficult emotions and sensations healthily.
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness: Learning skills to have more positive and healthy relationships.
  • Controlling your response to your emotions and lessening any negative impact they may have.

Acceptance And Commitment Therapy (ACT)

ACT was developed in the 1980s but had only recently gained more widespread attention as research has been done on its effectiveness. The ACT is another subtype of cognitive-behavioral therapy that has been shown in over 300 clinical trials to help patients with depression, anxiety, and addiction, among other mental health issues. It has been proven to be at least as effective as CBT in improving moderate to severe depression symptoms.

Instead of changing thought patterns, you develop mindfulness of your negative thoughts and limiting beliefs in the ACT. Then, you act despite them. The idea behind acceptance commitment therapy is that a change in your emotional state is not needed to change your behavior. Still, a change in behavior does influence how you feel.

ACT helps you develop a new way of looking at your depression and allows you to act despite how you're feeling mindfully. Many people struggle with desperately trying to control their feelings. They may feel the need to "fix" how they are thinking or feeling before making progress in life. With ACT, you accept the way you feel in the moment and act in a way that benefits you in the long term.

Psychodynamic Therapy

In psychodynamic therapy, the therapist guides the patient to explore the potential sources of their depression. The goal is to identify past reasons for current depressive feelings, including negative relationships, attachment issues, or traumatic events. You work to unearth subconscious motivations for your actions and feelings.

Psychodynamic therapy has fallen out of favor in recent years in favor of CBT and other therapy methods. Still, many people find psychodynamic therapy to be an excellent form of counseling for deeply-rooted depression.

Behavioral Activation

Behavioral activation is a relatively new type of therapy for depression. Instead of focusing on changing your thoughts or managing your emotions directly, behavioral activation focuses on encouraging the patient to do the things that will benefit their condition. In this way, it's much like acceptance and commitment therapy but may work better for patients who are experiencing learned helplessness.

People experiencing depression often tend to withdraw and isolate themselves from other people, including their loved ones. Since depression can cause a loss of pleasure, as well as fatigue, you may also stop doing the things that could help pull you out of depression. In this way, it becomes a self-sustaining cycle.

Behavioral activation seeks to dismantle this cycle by focusing on establishing positive behavior patterns. As the name suggests, the therapist seeks quite literally to activate the depressed person to behave more healthily.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is a short-term type of therapy for depression and other mental health issues. Studies have shown IPT to be at least as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression. It is often recommended to treat depression in children and teens.

The focus of interpersonal therapy is identifying and managing issues in relationships. The goal of treatment is to quickly address and reduce symptoms of depression and improve the relationships in the individual's life. A strong social support system has been repeatedly shown to help mitigate the symptoms of depression, and interpersonal therapy can help develop positive social connections.

Sessions of IPT usually occur for 3-4 months weekly. During each session, the therapist works to identify any issues and obstacles related to the individual's social functioning.

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Finding The Right Therapist

Connecting with a therapist you feel comfortable opening up to is one of the most important facets of successful treatment. Look for a therapist who has experience using the therapy method you're interested in to treat your condition. It may take a few times to meet with your therapist to get a feel for whether or not it's a good fit. Don't hesitate to change your therapist if you feel like you're not getting the help you need.

Considering Online Therapy?

Depression can make it difficult to have the motivation to attend appointments. You may have other barriers, such as a packed work schedule or transportation issues. Online therapy allows you to connect with a professional counselor on your terms, no matter what difficulties you may be facing. Whether you're looking for individual counseling or relationship counseling, ReGain.us can unite you with a therapist that will help you have a more satisfying, rewarding life.

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