Changing how you think is the best way to overcome depression, research finds.
Cognitive techniques can help to change negative thought patterns and enable people with depression to see the world more realistically.
Dr Daniel Strunk, the study’s first author, said:
“…our results suggest that it was the cognitive strategies that actually helped patients improve the most during the first critical weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy.”
The study involved 60 patients diagnosed with major depression who were treated by cognitive therapists.
The results showed that an initial focus on cognitive techniques was linked to greater improvements in depression than using behavioural techniques.
Typical cognitive techniques include questioning negative thoughts and running thought experiments.
Behavioural techniques include things like making a plan of action to do things that you enjoy.
The study also found that people who collaborated better with their therapist and committed to therapy did better.
Dr Strunk said:
“If you’re a patient and willing to fully commit to the therapy process, our data suggest you will see more benefit.”
The study is part of a project to understand how cognitive therapy works, Dr Strunk said:
“We’re trying to understand if cognitive therapy leads people to a profound change in their basic self view, or if it teaches them a set of skills that they have to continually practice over time.”
Cognitive-behavioural therapy targets both thoughts and behaviours, but it may be the cognitive aspect that is most useful at first.
Dr Strunk said:
“In our sample of cognitive therapy patients, cognitive techniques appeared to promote a lessening of depression symptoms in a way that was not true of behavioral techniques.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy (Strunk et al., 2010).