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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression and Anxiety 

CBT treatment for depression and anxiety

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely adopted therapeutic approach that has proven very effective in treating mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. Time and time again, studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy has the potential to significantly improve a person’s functioning and quality of life. And because of this, many treatment experts view cognitive behavioral therapy as the first-line of treatment, and even the “gold standard” of psychotherapy, when addressing mental illness. 

Of course, when it comes to mental health treatment, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Cognitive behavioral therapy is typically offered in tandem with other therapeutic methods, depending on an individual’s needs. For depression and anxiety disorders, CBT is often coupled with medications and other types of behavioral therapies, to create a holistic treatment plan. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression or anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is a powerful tool that most treatment professionals will recommend. Read on to learn how CBT works, why it works for many individuals, and what to expect when receiving CBT in anxiety and depression treatment.  

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that is designed to help people change unhealthy thinking and behavioral patterns. CBT works on the premise that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are all connected—so influencing one domain has the power to impact another. According to this concept, the way you think and feel about something can influence how you act. And once you are aware of negative patterns, you can begin learning how to change them into something good. 

The ultimate goal of CBT treatment is to help clients identify and shift away from the automatic, negative thoughts and behaviors contributing to their mental health struggles. When negative thoughts can be flipped into positive ones, it lends way to healthier emotions and actions in everyday life. Consider this: 

A person with anxiety struggles with intrusive thoughts and persistent fears that something bad is going to take place. Cognitive behavioral therapy, over time, can help this client flag those anxieties as they arise and put them to rest, by replacing them with more realistic ideas. Rather than approaching a group thinking, “No one is going to like me,” CBT can help them reframe their thinking: “By staying true to who I am, and being the best version of myself, I will attract the right type of friendships in my life.”  

A person with depression might battle self-defeat and deprecation, day in and day out. CBT can help this person separate the negative criticism from their everyday thinking, replacing those thoughts with more encouraging and positive ones. So, instead of this person thinking “My life is awful,” they can reframe their thought to be, “My life hasn’t been going how I’d imagine. Creating some goals, and making small changes in my life starting today, could help me find more happiness or meaning long-term.” 

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work? 

CBT teaches people how to deal with difficult symptoms by breaking them down into smaller parts, such as thoughts, emotions, physical feelings, or actions. CBT then encourages clients to challenge those negative parts and restate them in positive terms. CBT, in this way, works to make big feelings and overwhelming symptoms more manageable and digestible for those struggling. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is collaborative and goal-oriented, meaning clients and therapists work together to come up with goals and strategies for treatment. Goals are SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed. Then, through structured sessions, clients work with therapists to develop practical techniques for achieving those goals and managing the symptoms of their mental health condition (such as anxiety and depression). CBT also emphasizes active participation and practical application of learned skills in real-life situations, often incorporating homework assignments between sessions. 

As explained by the Royal College of General Practitioners, “CBT ultimately aims to teach patients to be their own therapist, by helping them to understand their current ways of thinking and behaving, and by equipping them with the tools to change their maladaptive cognitive and behavioural patterns.” 

Through cognitive behavioral therapy, clients learn to recognize negative patterns, develop coping strategies, and implement behavioral changes to improve their overall wellbeing. By equipping individuals with tools for managing stress, regulating emotions, and problem-solving, CBT fosters long-term resilience and empowers clients to take control of their mental health. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Depression and Anxiety 

A significant body of research has been conducted on the positive effects of cognitive behavioral therapy, specifically for those with depression and anxiety.  

Depression is characterized by negative thoughts, low self-esteem, feelings of uselessness, and persistent sadness. Anxiety disorders are associated with intrusive thoughts, too, as well as persistent worry, irrational fears, overestimated risk, and feelings of inadequacy or an inability to cope. 

When a person is struggling with depression or anxiety, they might have automatic thoughts like “I am going to fail” or “I am not enough.” They may create scenarios in their heads of ways they will not measure up to a task. They might feel too down on themselves to attempt a task in the first place. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression works to reframe these thoughts by encouraging clients to intervene and ask themselves certain questions when negative perceptions or concerns arise: 

  • What is causing this thought? 
  • What evidence supports this assumption (if any)? 
  • What else can I assume about [a situation, person, etc.]? 
  • What are some alternative ways to look at this? 
  • What is the most realistic outcome? 
  • What’s the worst that could happen? 
  • What’s the best that could happen? 

Many people in treatment for anxiety and depression are familiar with the three “C’s” of cognitive behavioral therapy, which are: Catch it, Check it, Change it. Catch your negative thoughts. Check those thoughts against reality. Change your way of thinking to be more positive. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy for depression and anxiety also might involve journaling as a strategy. Those struggling with negative thoughts and feelings should use a journal to find and log the positive aspects of life, keeping a running list or record of things that go well throughout their days. For example, you might log a time in which you were helpful to someone, or in which someone was helpful to you. You might log people, memories, or things that you are grateful for. You might log complements that others offer you. Keeping these observations in a tangible place allows you to access positive moments during hard times, and can help to reframe negative attitudes or distorted ways of thinking. 

Does CBT Work for Depression and Anxiety? 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is recognized as one of the most effective treatments for depression and anxiety disorders. But don’t take our word for it. Below are some studies highlighting the efficacy of CBT: 

  • One research study on depression showed that people who receive cognitive behavioral therapy are less likely to relapse than people who took antidepressant medications with no CBT. 
  • Another study offers evidence that CBT can also help improve cognitive function for people with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 
  • A review of CBT for anxiety, PTSD, and OCD treatment also found evidence to suggest that it helps improve symptoms in all of these situations. 
  • In young people, research shows that CBT for anxiety can yield long-term results. According to the linked study, more than half of participants no longer met criteria for anxiety disorder after two years (or more) of completing CBT therapy. 

These are just some of the many examples highlighting the efficacy of CBT. However, it’s important to reiterate that no mental health treatment, no matter the evidence, is one-size-fits-all. Every individual has different needs in treatment, as well as different experiences with their mental health. Therefore, treatment must be customized to each individual’s circumstance. For anxiety and depression disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy is typically one, recommended component of a larger treatment plan. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Practices for Young People 

Turnbridge is specialized in providing mental health therapy for young people struggling with anxiety disorders, depression, and a range of other mental health conditions. As an evidence-based treatment provider, cognitive behavioral therapy is core to what we do.  

At Turnbridge, those participating in cognitive behavioral therapy methods can expect ongoing sessions with an experienced therapist. Together, clients and therapists work together to change thinking patterns and behavioral patterns that are disruptive to the client’s lifestyle and health. Even in CBT treatments, however, there can be variation. While many of the below strategies are used in our programs, every client will utilize different CBT techniques to overcome their mental health symptoms. Treatment is personalized and adaptable, to help clients find success throughout the recovery process. 

In cognitive behavioral therapy sessions at Turnbridge, clients will: 

  • Learn to recognize distortions in thinking that lead to negative consequences 
  • Gain a better understanding of the motivation and behaviors of others 
  • Practice problem-solving skills to cope with challenging situations 
  • Develop a stronger sense of self-worth and confidence 
  • Learn how to face their fears (rather than avoiding them) 
  • Apply role-playing tactics to prepare for potentially challenging situations or interactions 
  • Learn and implement methods to calm the mind and relax the body 
  • Develop SMART goals to guide their recovery 
  • Practice strategies like journaling to record positive aspects of life, negative aspects of life, gratitude, and more 

Cognitive behavioral therapy is applied in various programs at Turnbridge, including for those struggling with anxiety, depression, stress- and trauma-related disorders, as well as those battling substance addiction. If you are interested in learning how CBT can benefit you or your loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out with your questions. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more. You can also get more information on anxiety and depression treatment by visiting the articles below: