As a treatment for depression, psychotherapy can either be long-term (years) or short-term (10 to 20 weeks). During psychotherapy for depression, patients examine and resolve their issues with a therapist’s assistance. In some instances, the therapist assigns homework that supplements in-session work.
Psychotherapy and Mild Depression
Dysthymia and cyclothymia are two mild forms of depression that can last for years. Dysthymia is characterized by a depressed mood that lasts most of the day, every day, for two or more years, although the symptoms are not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of a major depressive episode. Cyclothymia is similar to a mild case of bipolar disorder, where symptoms of dysthymia alternate with manic behavior.
For mild depression, help is often available through psychotherapy. With psychotherapy and depression, the patient eliminates behavior patterns and responses that lead to mood disorders. Furthermore, psychotherapy aims to identify stressors that may cause depression.
The following sections highlight common forms of psychotherapy for depression.
Treating Depression: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
In this short-term psychotherapy for depression, a therapist helps a patient to identify and change thinking patterns and habits that feed her disorder. Theoretically, by developing better thinking habits, patients unlearn negative patterns that cause their symptoms.
Treating Depression: Interpersonal Therapy
This short-term treatment for depression examines the patient’s relationships with others. It helps identify relationships and interpersonal problems that cause or exacerbate depression.
Treating Depression: Psychodynamic Therapy
Usually used when the patient is on her way to recovery, this long-term therapy is designed to resolve current emotional conflicts by discussing early childhood experiences. Patients must be open and honest with themselves and their therapist in order to benefit from this treatment for depression.
Treating Depression: Family Therapy
A more specialized form of interpersonal therapy, this treatment for depression seeks to mend family rifts and stressors that cause or worsen symptoms. Family members who haven’t experienced a depressive episode are able to better understand its effects on the patient. This treatment for depression also teaches effective coping strategies to family members.
Treating Depression: Depression Support Groups
In order to complement the combination of psychotherapy and depression, many therapists also offer depression support groups, allowing patients to discuss their condition with other sufferers. Participants can learn how others deal with their symptoms and gain a sense of community by realizing that they are not alone.
Most psychotherapy for depression touches on more than one of these models. Over time, psychotherapy can be a powerful treatment for not only mild depression, but chronic depression as well.
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National Institute of Mental Health. (2002). “Depression” [NIH Publication No. 02-3561].
Scholten, A. (2002). Psychodynamic therapy: Exploring the unconscious mind. Retrieved August 4, 2004, from www.swedish.org/16950.cfm.