Depression is a debilitating mood disorder that affects between 12-18% of adults in the United States each year. One of the answers to how to treat depression is therapy. Fortunately, various types of psychotherapy have been known to effectively treat depression. Each has its own specialized benefits, but not all therapy is the same. It’s worth looking at each of the major types of therapy for depression that are available. Then you can begin on the most effective path toward managing your depression

Psychotherapy — also referred to as talk therapy — is extremely effective on its own, but it’s often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy and/or prescription medication to treat depression. Therapy can help you to dive deeply into the possible underlying causes of your depressed mood. It can teach you new skills to help you cope with and alleviate your symptoms. 

Keep reading to learn more about the 7 types of therapy for depression you can try. With a little bit of time, help, and patience, you can get back to living your life. 

Types of Therapy for Depression

What’s the best therapy for depression? Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer to that question. The right therapy for your depression will depend on several factors, including:

Each of the therapeutic modalities outlined below has evidence that supports their benefits and efficacy in treating depression. First, it’s important to briefly look at what psychotherapy is in a broader sense. 

Psychotherapy involves talking to a mental health professional. However, there’s a lot more to it than that. A licensed mental health professional is trained in various techniques that can help you to recover from depression and increase your general sense of wellbeing.

Regardless of the type of psychotherapy you choose, some research suggests that combining prescription antidepressant medication with therapy — especially in the beginning of treatment — can be a more helpful approach than just using therapy alone. This is partly because there’s a complex blend of potential causes for depression and other mood disorders. Adding in medication might offer a more inclusive treatment approach while you’re learning coping techniques at the beginning of treatment. 

Developing an honest and open relationship with a trained mental health professional can help you identify, navigate, and overcome your negative emotions and behavioral patterns in real time.

Let’s examine some different types of psychotherapy used to treat depression (whether that be clinical depression, mild depression, moderate depression, or severe depression).

Cognitive therapy

Negative thinking contributes to the development and exacerbation of depression symptoms. If you’re stuck in a perpetual loop of negative thoughts, it can be incredibly difficult, some would argue virtually impossible, to find a positive attitude and feel good about your day.

Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that you can control your emotions with your thoughts. During cognitive therapy sessions, you’ll learn to identify negative thinking patterns, which are clinically called cognitive distortions. You’ll focus on learning how to turn cognitive distortions into positive thoughts and behaviors, which can help to improve your mood.

Behavioral therapy and behavioral activation (BA)

Instead of focusing on how we can control our thoughts to alleviate depression like cognitive therapy does, behavioral therapy focuses on changing certain behaviors that can cause your negative emotions. 

A core focus of behavioral therapy is a tactic called behavioral activation (BA), which involves engaging in certain activities that will likely enhance well-being. BA focuses on identifying and working towards specific goals to enhance your long-term coping strategies. It also focuses on overcoming avoidance behaviors, like not wanting to go out in public. Small steps and positive reinforcement are used to build confidence, positivity, and a sense of accomplishment.

It’s important to note that BA is not often used on its own, and it’s a fairly new therapy technique. Studies are beginning to look deeper at its efficacy on depression — especially in young people — but many experts believe more research needs to be done. That said, research does show promise for BA in treating mild to moderate depression, even when used on its own.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression combines the two well-established therapy techniques — cognitive and behavioral therapies. Since both are known to be effective forms of treatment for depression, they work well together and can be used as a powerful technique called cognitive behavioral therapy, commonly referred to as CBT. This type of psychotherapy focuses on changing both negative thought processes and behaviors that contribute to depression symptoms.

According to research, CBT offers some of the most promising evidence for effective therapeutic treatment for depression available. It can help reduce symptoms of depression, but beyond that, it also helps prevent relapse.

CBT can teach you how to recognize your thought and response patterns so you can learn new ways to think and behave that are more conducive to your overall happiness. This goal-oriented therapy often incorporates homework to further your progress. For example, it can include several self-help strategies, including: 

  • Daily journaling
  • Meditation
  • Exercising 
  • Eating healthy
  • Sleeping well
  • Identifying your core beliefs

All of these can help you learn how your core beliefs may be affecting you psychologically and causing your depression.

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a sub-discipline of cognitive behavioral therapy. The primary difference between DBT and CBT is that you’re encouraged to acknowledge and accept your negative behaviors and thoughts in DBT. This therapy technique has been found effective in treating depression in some people. 

A therapist will teach you the practice of validation. Over time, this can allow you to come to terms with your negative thoughts and emotions. You’ll learn new ways to cope with stress and anxiety and focus on how to improve interpersonal relationships.

DBT often incorporates mindfulness meditation, which teaches awareness of your breathing and thoughts as they develop. As you continue to practice, you’ll become better-equipped to anticipate and proactively deal with your depression before it gets out of hand.

Family constellation therapy

How about for families? What is the treatment option for them? Family constellation therapy is a group therapy technique that helps identify familial behaviors that might be contributing to mental health conditions and concerns like depression. It allows you to look at the family dynamics that might be contributing to your overall mental health, so you can begin to see things through a different lens and perhaps improve depression symptoms along the way. 

“Family constellation therapy can be effective with ancestral trauma which can show up as depression. Family constellation therapy can address inner child wounds, relationship conflict, and self-acceptance. It can be described as improvisational group therapy because without a script, feelings are expressed in the moment, and new insights are made.”

Talkspace therapist Karmen Smith, LCSW, DD

Interpersonal therapy (IPT)

This depression treatment helps you focus on the interpersonal conflict you might be experiencing that’s resulting in your depression. By examining and focusing on the interpersonal relationships you have and the current and former social roles you’ve experienced, you can learn how to identify the roles you tend to play in the important relationships in your life. Thus, you can learn to resolve conflicts, which can ultimately help with symptoms and feelings of depression.

A major goal of interpersonal therapy includes learning how to build a strong, reliable social support system, which can be incredibly beneficial when you’re dealing with depression. 

Psychodynamic therapy

Here’s another mental health treatment that falls under psychological therapy. Psychodynamic therapy, also known as psychoanalytic therapy, is a form of therapy that can work to treat depression that results from unresolved (typically childhood) conflict. Many times, these conflicts can even be unconscious. 

Psychodynamic therapy helps you become aware of and able to identify the emotions that might be difficult for you to acknowledge. It’s slightly different from some other approaches to treating depression in that it’s often longer-term.

Finding a Therapist for Depression

Globally, depression is one of the most common mental health conditions we face today. It’s also very treatable in most cases. If you or someone you care about is living with depression, it’s important to find the right type of professional help. At the very least, you can also work to find the causes of your depression.

You can begin the process by contacting your family doctor and asking for a referral to a local mental health professional. You’ll likely find that working with a professional therapist is calming and empowering. 

It’s rewarding to take charge of your life. Therapy can teach you new coping skills aimed at helping you manage depression symptoms on your own as you see them arising. In most cases, significant improvements are seen and felt within 5 – 20 weekly sessions. However, keep in mind that there’s no standard, and each case is unique.

If your symptoms are severe and require immediate attention, don’t hesitate to call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). This free service is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, offering assistance in both English and Spanish.

Get help for depression with Talkspace

Talkspace is a unique therapeutic experience, where you can get the help you need for your depression from the comfort of your own home. If you can’t meet with a therapist in person, consider trying our online therapy service. Our online platform pairs you with a skilled mental health professional who can help you address and deal with your depression so that you can begin your journey of healing.