Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Depression

Table of Content

            Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is founded on the principle that an individual’s way of thinking affects their behavior, indicating that cognition is directly related to behavior. This therapy involves the guiding of an individual to learn to handle the different ways by which they distort reality with their cognitive processes, to learn to cope with their own cognitive distortions: overgeneralization, catastrophising, black and white thinking, labeling, mind reading, fortune telling, and the like. (Sullivan et al, 2003) Thus an individual is guided to recognized occurrence of negative automatic thoughts and to learn to modify these thoughts into more positive and more constructive ones. Thus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aims to reframe an individual’s cognition in the hopes of reforming problem areas identified in his or her behavior.

            Cognitive Behavior Therapy has been utilized for many different psychological disorders and problems. Researchers have been so intrigued by the potential of cognition as a key to an individual’s behavior that many different techniques have been paired with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in efforts to find potent complementary techniques that will aid in the therapy’s aim of helping an individual renew their cognition mechanisms. This would provide those on the field, with more tools with which they could address their clients’ complaints. One such example is the successful results yielded by the study on the augmentation of metaphor, Gestalt principles and guided imager with the original processes of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (Abbatiello, 2006)

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Although Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is often used on many different psychological problems such as addictions, pain disorders, eating disorders, anger issues, anxiety disorders, sexual dysfunction and family problems, the therapy’s most popular an d most widely acknowledged application is on depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been found to be a strong and effective technique that can be used to aid an individual experiencing depression. Its strength has been found in the cognitive aspects that serve as the foundations of depression. It has also been found in the results of studies utilizing the therapy in different ways on a population of individuals with depression.

Mechanism of Cognition on Depression

            The cognitive theory on depression is heavily founded on an information-processing model. Depression induces an individual to think negatively about certain processes through a prolonged and emphasized manner. The way by which depressive individuals cognitively process information, in the taking in of information as well as in its assessment, is varied to a certain degree from that of non-depressive individuals that it causes dysfunctional behavior. The differed way of cognitization in depressed individuals leads to extreme misery and can even lead to harmful behavior such as suicide or self-injury. (Beck, 2002; 1989 Davison & Neale, 2001)

            According to Beck (2002), a depressed individual has negative schemas that cause biases in their way of thinking which in turn fuels the negative schema. Thus depression is a vicious cycle fueled by distorted cognitive processes. This is what Beck calls the cognitive triad.

Another theory on depression states the factor of hopelessness in the condition. Hopelessness is felt mainly due to the mechanism of cognitive distortion, fortune telling, wherein the individual believes nothing good will come out of a given situation therefore foretelling possible outcomes and sinking into feelings of helplessness and misery. (Davison & Neale, 2001; Sullivan et al, 2003; Abramson et al, 1989) These feelings of hopelessness lead to feelings of being trapped and of being defeated. Thus depressive cognitive patterns increase automatic negative thoughts in depressive individuals. They begin to turn to negative thoughts as a means of self-preservation and self-defense. (Odaci, 2007)

Application of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Depression

            Cognitive Behavior Therapy was initially developed specifically for depression. The treatment focused on applying specific and evidence-based techniques aimed at depressogenic information processing. (Beck, 1979) Congitive Behavioral Therapy thus involves the correction of negative automatic thoughts underlying depression. Clients are taught to have a more positivistic way of thinking, a more adaptive cognition of different situations and circumstances. Cogntive Behavioral Therapy, however, is not limited only to correcting the cognitive aspect of a depressive individual. It also reaches out to the physiological and behavioral aspect, through activities monitoring, meditation practices, and the like, thus creating a holistic approach to the treatment of depression. (McGinn, 2000)

            Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be applied to many different forms of depression. It can be used to decrease symptoms of bipolar depression. Despite the difference between bipolar depressive individuals and unipolar depressive individuals, treatment procedure was the same. The mechanism of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the two types of depressions is also the same. This means that even in bipolar depressive individuals, Cognitive Behavior Therapy only acts on the information processing aspect of the said individual. The treatment, however, only addresses the issues of depression in these individuals and is unable to address the deeper problems of bipolar disorder. (Zaretsky et al, 1999)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can also be used to decrease childhood and adolescent depression through the same mechanisms that it treats adult depression, which is through the close monitoring of the deprossogenic information processing of these children and through replacement of this process with more adaptive ways of thinking. These are also coupled with the performance of behaviors that will increase positive reinforcement of adaptive thinking instead of distorted thinking which are characteristic features of depression. (Henline, 1999) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy proves to be one of the most potent treatments of childhood depression. This is due to its flexibility in addressing the specific context of the child’s depression. (Asarnow et al, 2002) Children might stand to benefit the most from this therapy because their schemas of the world are established during this time period. Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to change their schema and self-image this early in time will allow for them to have more adaptive life experiences and thus well-adjusted lives in the future. Having the child practice coping mechanisms and relaxation techniques will have influences on his or her life stretching on to adulthood. The fact that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of two known treatments is important. Most adult forms of depression have roots in childhood especially with the fact that depression is a result mostly of the interaction psychological factors and stressful life events that were established from early years in an individual’s life. (Watt & Markham, 2005) Thus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy may provide early intervention for depression thus preventing adult depression symptoms.

The strength of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy lies in the fact that it can be used alongside many different treatments for depression thus creating a multiplied factor on the speed and assurance of recovery. (Teasdale et al, 2000) Some studies found that application of some medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy applied individually on chronic depression resulted in equal statistical decrease. However, when these methods were applied together, it resulted in a statistically significant decrease in depression in the sample. (Keller et al, 2000)

Spencer & Nashelsky (2005) maintained, however, that the application of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy together with other treatments for depression is dependent on many other factors. One of these includes the individual preference of the client with depression. It is important to take the treatment of the client individually. Along with this, it is also important to consider the physician or psychologist’s preference. Coupling Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with other treatments will only provide effective results if the physician is highly experienced in the use of the treatments involved.

Efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on Depression

            The efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an answer to the needs of a depressed individual is clear from the results of past research A study done by Teasdale et al (2000) shows that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which was aimed to aid depressive individuals in the process of recovering but who continue to experience relapse, provides statistically significant decrease in relapse of depressive individuals. Also, it showed not only a statistical significance but also showed that results of the therapy were independent from that of medication, that therapy was just as potent as medication for depression.

Another study showed that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was an effective treatment for depression in children. This was especially true when the therapy was conducted together with family education intervention. This was an important finding due to the rarity of treatments and psychotherapy techniques that were effective in reducing and completely treating depression in children. (Henline, 1999; Asarnow et al, 2002) This allows children with depressive symptoms to be treated of their depression without having to undergo medication which could affect them adversely at so young an age. The efficacy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in treating childhood depression is also attributable to the fact that children are much more easily trained and taught to think and behave a certain way as opposed to adults who have already established their own cognitive processes about the world. Children are more prone to adapt the processes of Cogntive Behavioral Therapy as opposed to older depressive individuals. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, compared to medication, addresses more of the factors of childhood depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy addresses the psychological roots as well as the stressful life events which add to the etiology of childhood depression whereas pharmacology addresses only biological factors. (Watt & Markham, 2005)

Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, one of the first forms of Cognitive Behavior Therapy is evidence to its efficacy as treatment for depression. REBT teaches the individual to take irrational beliefs, dispute them and to change them with more rational thoughts and belief systems.  It not only effectively addresses irrational depressive thinking but also addresses co-morbid conditions such as anxiety, anger and panic. (Ellis & Dryden, 2007)


            Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on giving an individual a more adaptive way of processing the information entering their cognitive system. Individuals with depression experience many distortions in their cognitive thought. These distortions are lessened and even stopped completely with continued application of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Hopelessness and defeated feelings of depressed individuals are effectively addressed by exposing them to behavior which will allow them to edify their newly gained adaptive cognitive processes.

In conclusion, it can be said that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is indeed one of the most effective treatments for depression available today. The cognitive features of depression, its actions on an individual’s information processing, and its effect on an individual’s schema allows for it to be easily targeted by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The strength of the therapy is in the fact that it can be combined with other treatments to provide stronger and speedier results. Research continues to explore the ways by which Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be utilized and investigates different techniques that can be used to complement its mechanism.


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