How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Help Depression


Depression treatments are as complex and individualized as the disease itself. Medication, therapy, and support groups can work well separately as well as together. Even if it takes time to find what works for you, a customized approach is more likely to produce positive results. Many people have benefited from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a pragmatic treatment option with a problem-solving approach to changing patterns of thinking or behavior. It’s important to note that CBT doesn’t aim to “cure” depression, but here are some ways it can improve the way you feel.

Focusing On the Present

People with depression often feel overwhelmed by problems in their life—not just current problems, but also those from the past and potential problems in the future. CBT is mainly concerned with how you think and act now rather than what you could have done differently in the past or what issues might occur in the future. Journaling, brainstorming solutions, and talk therapy focusing on possible solutions also work to minimize one of the hallmarks of depression: hopelessness.

Breaking Problems Down

CBT breaks problems down into five main categories: situations, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, and actions. Identifying how these areas are interconnected is the first step in changing negative thought patterns. For example, someone who is recently divorced might feel like a failure and use hopelessness in the institution of marriage as a whole as an excuse to stop going out and meeting new people. This feeling leads to an action that lessens that person’s chance of meeting someone new, trapping them in a cycle of negative reinforcement. But accepting that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, and that you are now free from the troubles associated with your ex, can result in optimism about the future and increased social engagement.

Navigating Negativity

CBT doesn’t aim to eliminate all negative emotions. Instead, it helps you learn how to accept disappointment, failure, sadness, and other discomfort as a natural part of life. Allowing yourself to “feel your feelings” and remembering that some things are not in your control will make it easier to move on from negative situations and work on what you can control, such as how you can do things differently next time.

Liberating Positivity

Tackling negative emotions might seem like the focus of CBT, but it’s just as important to recognize how you deal with positive emotions. Clinical researchers have observed that people with depression don’t lack positive emotions; they suppress them. This is usually because they don’t feel deserving or they don’t think the positivity will last. It’s a common defense mechanism called “dampening.” One of the goals of CBT is to recalibrate the part of your brain that hoards happy thoughts and feelings—and to set them free. 

Replacing Negative with Positive

Once you learn to accept negative emotions and allow positive emotions to exist, you can train yourself to counteract the former with the latter. A common tactic to achieve this goal is writing self-statements, in which you write down one positive thought to offset every negative thought in an effort to create new associations. For example, if you’re single and surrounded by couples, you can counteract feelings of loneliness by writing down things you can do while single but not as part of a couple, like spending your time and money however you wish. With training, counteraction will come naturally, halting negative thoughts in their tracks.

Ready to try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

At Alvarado Parkway Institute in San Diego, our team has the skills, knowledge and expertise necessary to help those with depression improve their quality of life. If you or a loved one suffers from a mental health disorder of any kind, please call us. In addition to CBT, we offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient programs to treat those suffering from depression, and we encourage our patients to include family members in the treatment process

Call us to start your journey towards recovery today. For immediate assistance, you can call our 24-hour crisis line at (619) 667-6125.