Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has two components: cognitive therapy and behaviour therapy. Cognitive therapy teaches people how to overcome distorted, negative thinking patterns linked with depression. Behaviour therapy teaches skills and ways to change behaviour. For example the therapist might get people to do more things that give them pleasure, help them to solve problems in their life, or teach them better social skills.
People who are depressed have distorted thinking patterns. They see themselves and their situation more negatively than others see it. These thinking patterns can make their depressed mood worse. In cognitive behaviour therapy, distorted thinking is challenged by the therapist who teaches the person how to overcome their negative thinking patterns in everyday life.
There is a lot of scientific evidence on CBT for the treatment of depression in adults and older adults. More scientific studies on CBT for the treatment of depression in adolescents is needed.
Across all age groups CBT has been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression. People who had CBT reported lower depressive symptoms compared to people who did not have CBT. CBT and antidepressants reduced people’s depressive symptoms better than only antidepressants or only CBT. Studies have shown CBT is about as effective as other psychological interventions in treating depression.
One study in older adults found CBT had a small positive result in treating people with major depression.
CBT may involve seeing a therapist weekly for several months which can be expensive. In Australia Medicare provides rebates for visits to trained therapists (see below).
CBT may not be suitable for severely depressed people because they may have difficulties concentrating and learning the new thinking skills.
CBT is provided by therapists such as clinical psychologists, psychologists or counsellors who have been specially trained to provide this therapy (see Psychologists and other therapists). In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme. CBT may also be covered by some private health insurance funds. It is available from therapists employed in hospitals or government-funded clinics. Self-help books on CBT can be bought in most bookshops and many online programs are available for free.
You can learn more about cognitive behaviour therapy techniques in MoodGYM and e-couch, our free online programs.
CBT appears to be an effective treatment for depression and is recommended as a first choice of treatment.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016