Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talking therapy used to treat many different mental health illnesses; helping people with conditions such as depression learn how to change their typical thought patterns so that they have the opportunity to think more positively.
CBT is the result of Dr Aaron T. Beck’s research at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s. He discovered that many depressed patients experienced negative thoughts about themselves, the world or the future. Beck then began to help people assess these thoughts and think more realistically about how they felt about themselves and the world around them.
Using these findings, early cognitive therapy (CT) and behaviour therapy (BT) methods have developed to become known in the modern day as cognitive behavioural therapy. Today, it is known as the “gold standard” technique of psychotherapy.
How Does CBT Treat Depression?
If you regularly have negative thoughts as a symptom of depression – things like ‘what is the point of getting out of bed?’ or ‘my colleagues will think I’m worthless no matter what I do’, then attending sessions of CBT can be particularly useful.
A therapist will work with you to identify any recurring negative or irrational thoughts you may have, as well as how they affect your behaviours, and will gradually work towards replacing these beliefs with healthier and more practical thoughts.
Because your attitude towards yourself and your position in the world around you directly impacts how you behave, the changes that CBT can provide not only make you aware of the negative thoughts you are having and how they are affecting your actions, but also allows you to act on them and change your thought patterns which can lead to more positive actions in your life.
If you often find it difficult to motivate yourself in the morning for example, you can learn to reflect on these negative feelings, and start thinking more along the lines of “That’s not helping me. If I can get out of bed then I know I will feel the benefits”.
What can I expect from a CBT Depression Session?
Coming in for your first CBT session can be daunting. It’s understandable to be a little nervous, but once you arrive you’ll quickly realise this is a safe, friendly, clinical environment that has just one objective – helping you to learn how to cope with depression and continue to live a fruitful life.
If you’re wondering what to expect from a CBT session, if you are feeling nervous before your first appointment, a typical CBT session will usually involve the following:
- Meeting your therapist and beginning to explore some of the problems, thoughts or symptoms you are having trouble with
- Outlining what you want to achieve from the CBT sessions with your therapist, and beginning to plan what future sessions will involve
- Taking part in various exercises that help you understand and reflect on how your thoughts are linked to your emotions and behaviours through diagrams or worksheets
- Practicing exercises outside of the session
- Reviewing your progress and recapping on what has previously been learnt
There’s no need to spend hours preparing for therapy or worrying yourself over what might happen, but to get the very best from CBT, there are a few things you can do in advance:
- Try to be as open and honest as possible with your therapist, and think about what that might mean ahead of time. Of course, you can share whatever you like in a strictly confidential environment, but you shouldn’t feel as though you have to hold anything back. Therapists are objective and non-judgemental. The more honest you are, the more likely they are to be able to help you
- When it comes to sessions two, three and beyond, think about how you felt immediately after your last session and how you have felt in between. Take notes at home if you need to. This will help to guide you and your therapist in what you cover in your current session
- Part of the CBT approach asks that you complete behavioural ‘homework’ assignments. If you’ve been given a small task to do at home inbetween sessions, try to make sure this is ready and be prepared to talk about it
How are CBT Depression Sessions Structured?
Treatment for depression or anxiety which includes CBT can last between ten and twenty sessions, which will usually be spread out so you attend for an hour each week, for as many weeks as you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. You’ll work with your therapist or consultant to come to an agreement on the general structure of your therapy sessions.
CBT sessions can be delivered in several ways, including:
- One-to-one - with your therapist face-to-face, although it can be over phone or as part of online therapy
- In a group - where you have the chance to share and learn from other people who are experiencing similar mental health problems
- Practice at home - in addition to one-on-one and group therapy, you may also be asked to work through exercises in your own time and practice these techniques in your day-to-day life
Does CBT Work for Treating Depression?
While sessions of CBT can continue for weeks or months before symptoms of depression or anxiety begin to ease, it is often cited as the most effective form of talking therapy, (otherwise known as psychotherapy), which currently exists.
The industry’s confidence in CBT has grown as studies are conducted that show how effective it is at treating depression. One example, published in the Lancet in 2016, found that 43% of those who received CBT in addition to their usual care had seen their condition improve over a 46-month period. This compared to 27% of people whose condition improved with their usual care alone. (source).
Depending on the severity of your mental health condition, CBT can also be used alongside antidepressant medication, which can help make therapy sessions more effective as symptoms of depression are reduced.
Because many of the techniques for managing your thoughts and behaviours can be used long-term once you have completed a number of CBT sessions, the effectiveness of the treatment in preventing your depression from returning can help you reduce the impact of depression on your life well into the future.
CBT Therapy at Priory
If you are struggling with symptoms of depression, our nationwide network of hospitals and wellbeing centres can help you take the first steps on the road to recovery by setting up a tailored treatment plan including CBT sessions. If you prefer, you can also access the very best CBT therapy from the comfort of your own home with Priory Connect, our online therapy service.
Delivered by world-class care from highly qualified therapists and psychiatrists, contacting the Priory can be the first step towards getting your life back on track. Get in touch today or call us on 0800 084 1933 for a chat about your struggles with depression and how the Priory can help you to recover.
Page medically reviewed by Debbie Longsdale (Dip. in counselling children, PGDip. in Counselling Adolescents and Young People, Prof.Dip. in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Prof.Dip. in Integrative Therapeutic Counselling), Priory Therapy Services Director.