According to the National Institute of Mental
Health, an estimated 18.8 million adult Americans
suffer from depression during any one-year period.
Many do not even recognize that they have a condition
that can be treated very effectively. This question-and-
answer fact sheet discusses depression with a focus
on how psychotherapy can help a depressed person
How Psychotherapy Helps People Recover From Depression
How does depression differ from occasional
Everyone feels sad or "blue" on occasion. Most people
grieve over upsetting life experiences such as a major
illness, loss of a job, a death in the family, or a
divorce. These feelings of grief tend to become less
intense on their own as time goes on.
Depression occurs when feelings of extreme
sadness or despair last for at least two weeks or
longer and when they interfere with activities of daily
living such as working or even eating and sleeping.
Depressed individuals tend to feel helpless and
hopeless and to blame themselves for having these
feelings. Some may have thoughts of death or
People who are depressed may become
overwhelmed and exhausted and stop participating in
certain everyday activities altogether. They may
withdraw from family and friends.
What causes depression?
Changes in the body's chemistry influence mood and
thought processes, and biological factors contribute to
some cases of depression. In addition, chronic and
serious illnesses such as heart disease or cancer
may be accompanied by depression. For many
individuals, however, depression signals first and
foremost that certain mental and emotional aspects of
life are out of balance.
Significant transitions and major life stressors such
as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job can
help bring about depression. Other more subtle
factors that lead to a loss of identity or self-esteem
may also contribute. The causes of depression are
not always immediately apparent, so the disorder
requires careful evaluation and diagnosis by a trained
mental health care professional.
Sometimes the circumstances involved in depression
are ones over which an individual has little or no
control. At other times, however, depression occurs
when people are unable to see that they actually have
choices and can bring about change in their lives.
Can depression be treated successfully?
Absolutely. Depression is highly treatable when an
individual receives competent care. Psychologists are
among the licensed and highly trained mental health
providers with years of experience studying
depression and helping patients recover from
There is still some stigma, or reluctance, associated
with seeking help for emotional and mental problems,
including depression. Unfortunately, feelings of
depression often are viewed as a sign of weakness
rather than as a signal that something is out of
balance. The fact is that people with depression can
not simply "snap out of it" and feel better
Persons with depression who do not seek help suffer
needlessly. Unexpressed feelings and concerns
accompanied by a sense of isolation can worsen a
depression. The importance of obtaining quality
professional health care can not be
How does psychotherapy help people recover
There are several approaches to psychotherapy -
including cognitive-behavioral, interpersonal,
psychodynamic and other kinds of "talk therapy" - that
depressed individuals recover. Psychotherapy offers
people the opportunity to identify the factors that
contribute to their depression and to deal effectively
with the psychological, behavioral, interpersonal and
Skilled therapists such as licensed psychologists can
work with depressed individuals to:
- Identify negative or distorted thinking patterns that
contribute to feelings of hopelessness and
helplessness that accompany depression. For
example, depressed individuals may tend to
overgeneralize, that is, to think of circumstances in
terms of "always" or "never." They may also take
events personally. A trained and competent therapist
can help nurture a more positive outlook on life.
- Explore other learned thoughts and behaviors that
create problems and contribute to depression. For
example, therapists can help depressed individuals
understand and improve patterns of interacting with
other people that contribute to their depression.
- Help people regain a sense of control and
pleasure in life. Psychotherapy helps people see
choices as well as gradually incorporate enjoyable,
fulfilling activities back into their lives. Having one
episode of depression greatly increases the risk of
having another episode. There is some evidence that
ongoing psychotherapy may lessen the chance of
future episodes or reduce their intensity. Through
therapy, people can learn skills to avoid unnecessary
suffering from later bouts of depression.
In what other ways do therapists help depressed
individuals and their loved ones?
The support and involvement of family and friends can
play a crucial role in helping someone who is
depressed. Individuals in the "support system" can
help by encouraging a depressed loved one to stick
with treatment and to practice the coping techniques
and problem-solving skills he or she is learning
Living with a depressed person can be very difficult
and stressful for family members and friends. The
pain of watching a loved one suffer from depression
can bring about feelings of helplessness and loss.
Family or marital therapy may be beneficial in bringing
together all the individuals affected by depression and
helping them learn effective ways to cope together.
This type of psychotherapy can also provide a good
opportunity for individuals who have never
experienced depression themselves to learn more
about it and to identify constructive ways of supporting
a loved one who is suffering from
Are medications useful for treating depression?
Medications can be very helpful for reducing the
symptoms of depression in some people, particularly
for cases of moderate to severe depression. Some
health care providers treating depression may favor
using a combination of psychotherapy and
medications. Given the side effects, any use of
medication requires close monitoring by the physician
who prescribes the drugs.
Some depressed individuals may prefer
psychotherapy to the use of medications, especially if
their depression is not severe. By conducting a
thorough assessment, a licensed and trained mental
health professional can help make recommendations
about an effective course of treatment for an
Depression can seriously impair a person's ability to
function in everyday situations. But the prospects for
recovery for depressed individuals who seek
appropriate professional care are very good. By
working with qualified and experienced therapists,
those suffering from depression can help regain
control of their lives.
This article reprinted with permission from the
American Psychological Association
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