Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, became a household word in the 1970s, thanks to the Bob Newhart show, a sitcom starring therapist and his loony cast of patients. Of course, in real life, there's nothing funny about mental illness. However, psychotherapy--especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-is effective for treating depression and other mental health disorders.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, teaches patients strategies and provides tools for dealing with stress and unhealthy thoughts. Unlike traditional therapy, which can last for years, CBT is generally a short-term treatment.

CBT reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety and is effective for treating people with obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

Does CBT Work?

In numerous studies, CBT--alone or in combination with medications--provides significant relief from depression. About 75 percent of patients show improvement following CBT.

CBT is particularly valuable in treating teens, who are at high risk for suffering a relapse or recurrence of depression. Furthermore, both teens and adults are less likely to suffer a depression relapse when they receive CBT following treatment with medication. In one study, 97 percent of the teens who improved following CBT maintained this improvement after 36 weeks. CBT may have a preventative effect that sustains and improves depression and potentially avoids relapse.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also effective in treating the elderly, who are often isolated and frequently suffer from depression.

What to Expect from CBT

First, therapists help patients identify and label inaccurate thoughts that are associated with depressive feelings. Depressed individuals often have distorted thoughts about themselves, the environment, and their future. The therapist helps pinpoint these notions. This is called Cognitive Restructuring.

Then patients learn to understand what events, situations, and thoughts are associated with their positive and negative feelings. They also learn to question, challenge, and modify unrealistic thinking patterns and acquire enhanced problem-solving skills.

Finally, therapists help patients engage in pleasant and rewarding activities more frequently.

It may be difficult for people who are disabled, live in rural areas, or have other limitations to seek in-person CBT, so mental health experts are studying the effectiveness of online therapy. Online CBT is delivered in real time with a trained therapist via text messaging. In preliminary results, CBT participants were more likely than control subjects to have recovered at four and eight months after treatment. Writing their thoughts, rather than talking, may be more helpful to some patients, although online CBT is certainly not right for everyone.


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Moyer, Paula, MA. "Combination SSRI and CBT Most Effective for Adolescent Depression." AACAP 51st Annual Meeting: Abstract 49b. Presented 23 October 2004. Medscape Medical News. Web. 25 October 24.

Barclay, Laurie, MD. "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy May Be Effective for Elderly With Depression." Archives of General Psychiatry 66 (2009): 1332-1340. Medscape Medical News. Web. December 15, 2009.

Schwenk,Thomas L., MD. "Preventing Depression in Adolescents." Journal Watch (2009). Massachusetts Medical Society. Web. 2 November 2009.

National Institutes of Health. "Effectiveness of Telephone Versus Face-to-Face CBT in Treating People With Depression." Web. 15 January 2010.