Aaron Beck, M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania developed a type of therapy for depression called Cognitive Therapy, which is often referred to as Cognitive-behavioral Therapy or CBT. He noted that people with depression have consistent patterns of negative thinking. For example, a person who had dinner plans with a friend who cancelled might think, “my friend doesn’t like me anymore.” This negative thinking creates a spiral that leads to negative emotions and behaviors such as withdrawal or avoidance. CBT helps people by helping them to identify their negative views of themselves, others and their future. In the example above, the therapist might help the person to find alternatives to their automatic assumption that their friend doesn’t like them anymore. They would search together to find other, more balanced explanations, such as “maybe she had to work late or was sick.”
CBT is an active, collaborative approach that often involves the use of homework or experimenting with new activities, communication patterns, alternative thinking, and problem-solving for difficult life problems. Typically, the therapy lasts from 8 to 20 sessions, although it may last longer depending on the individual needs of the patient. Learning to consistently think in newer, more adaptive, and helpful ways can help to reduce symptoms of depression. Many people report that these changes lead to increased meaning, satisfaction, and happiness in their lives and relationships. There is strong evidence from research that CBT helps to prevent the relapse of depression by helping people learn new coping, problem-solving, and thinking strategies.