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Key Takeaways:

  • CBT is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on modifying thought patterns to help improve moods and behaviors.
  • Therapists work with clients to identify distorted perceptions or negative thinking patterns and change them into more realistic and productive thoughts and behaviors.
  • CBT is effective at treating different types of depression and can be effective in the long term.

Depression is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses present in the world today. In fact, about 5% of adults are affected by depression globally [*], while around 2.7 million children and adolescents aged 3 to 17 have the condition as well [*]. Fortunately, there are treatment options available. Here, we’ll be exploring cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression, including techniques used, its effectiveness, and whether it poses risks for people getting treated.

What is CBT?

CBT is a type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) that focuses on modifying thought patterns to help improve moods and behaviors. It is based on the principle that distorted beliefs and thoughts cause negative actions or feelings rather than unconscious influences from the past.

CBT combines cognitive therapy [*], which focuses on moods and thoughts, and behavioral therapy, which targets actions and behaviors. This type of therapy is often used for a wide range of mental health conditions and diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, phobias, insomnia, and more. This form of treatment involves developing more constructive ways to respond to stressors. Ideally, these new responses should help individuals cope with depression.

CBT principles can also be applied outside of therapy. The aim of your therapist is to provide you with coping skills to help you through life’s challenges. CBT allows you to become more aware of negative thinking patterns and teaches you to reframe your thinking in more productive ways.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression

Cognitive behavior therapy is a short-term approach compared to other modes of treatment, like psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies. It requires only up to 20 sessions, though you can continue seeing your therapist as needed. Every situation is unique, so you and your therapist can decide how long you continue CBT treatment for depression.

CBT works by providing clients with opportunities to identify current life issues that may be contributing to mental health conditions like depression. Your therapist then works with you to identify distorted perceptions or negative thinking patterns that are no longer serving you. These may include all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and personalization, to name a few.

CBT Techniques Used for Depression

Several techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy for depression are effective at alleviating symptoms and helping individuals manage the condition. Let’s briefly go through each of them:

Cognitive Restructuring

Also called reframing, cognitive restructuring is used to treat depression in teens and adults by helping them form healthier thought patterns, reduce cognitive errors, and rationalize thought distortions and untrue beliefs. By challenging your thought patterns, tone, and self-talk, you can decrease unhealthy thoughts and cognitive distortions that can lead to depressive emotions or suicidal thoughts.

ABC Analysis

The ABC model focuses on breaking down behaviors related to depression, such as sleeping excessively and snapping at others. By analyzing your triggers and their consequences, you can explore your consequential behaviors and identify common causes of your depressive triggers.

The ABC model follows a structure. First, you identify the “activating” event, followed by the “beliefs” you have about that event. Lastly, you recognize the “consequences” of the event, including your feelings and behaviors surrounding said event.

Role Play

Role play involves acting out a specific situation that you find challenging alongside your therapist. This allows you to practice healthier responses and learn coping mechanisms for depression. Role playing also allows you to gain a better understanding of your emotional responses. This will help you manage your reactions in a real-life situation. This is a technique that is often used in CBT for kids.

Mindful Meditation

Mindful meditation allows people with depression to reduce their focus on negative thoughts and increase their ability to remain in the present moment. Meditation can also help you recognize and learn to accept your negative thought patterns, allowing you to detach from them instead of letting them take over.


Fact-checking encourages those with depression to review their thoughts and assess whether they are factual or simply opinions based on emotions. For instance, you may have a persisting thought that you are a failure. Fact-checking allows you to recognize this is a harmful thought pattern rather than an objective reality. It also helps you identify the behaviors you engage in as a result of your opinions and emotions instead of the actual facts. This is especially helpful in CBT for teens.

Is CBT Effective for Treating Depression?

CBT is effective in treating mild to moderate levels of depression. Depending on the case, CBT can be implemented along with other treatments, like antidepressants or other medications, to treat depression [*].

How Long Does CBT Treatment for Depression Last?

Studies have found that a combination of CBT and antidepressants was effective in reducing depressive symptoms for up to 46 months [*].

Is CBT Effective in Treating All Types of Depression?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective at treating various depressive disorders, including the following:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Postpartum depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • The depressive episodes of bipolar disorder
  • Situational depression
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder (depressive type)

Are There Risks and Side Effects Associated with CBT for Depression?

Generally, there’s no risk in getting CBT for depression. You may feel emotionally uncomfortable during therapy since it may cause you to explore painful emotions and experiences. You might get upset or cry during challenging sessions.

The Bottom Line

Depression can be extremely difficult to deal with, especially when it’s depression in children or other vulnerable individuals. Negative and unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors can cause significant distress to people with depression. Depression and CBT go hand in hand, making it possible for those with the condition to live a better life. With the right techniques and in combination with other treatments (like medication), it is possible to manage depressive symptoms and enjoy life.

Explore our collection of CBT worksheets, which can serve as a helpful supplement to CBT treatment.


  1. World Health Organization. Depressive disorder (depression). 31 March 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health. 8 March 2023.
  3. Beck J. Cognitive Therapy. 30 January 2010.
  4. Gautam M, Tripathi A, Deshmukh D, et al. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression. 17 January 2020.
  5. University of Oxford. Study finds CBT offers long-term benefits for people with depression. 7 January 2016.

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