Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Depression Health Center

Font Size

Cognitive Therapy for Depression

Are your thoughts dragging you down?

Cognitive Therapy for Depression: How It Works

Cognitive therapy posits that most problems have several parts. Those parts include:

  • the problem as the person sees it
  • the person's thoughts about the problem
  • the person's emotions surrounding the problem
  • the person's physical feelings at the time
  • the person's actions before, during, and after the problem occurs

The way cognitive therapy works is a patient learns to "disassemble" problems into these various parts. Once a person does that, problems that seemed overwhelming become manageable.

During regular cognitive therapy sessions, a trained therapist teaches the tools of cognitive therapy. Then between sessions, the patient often does homework. That homework helps the person learn how to apply the tools to solve specific life problems.

"They make small changes in their thinking and behavior every day," Beck says. "Then over time, these small changes lead to lasting improvement in mood and outlook."

Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Evidence It's Effective

How well does cognitive therapy for depression work? And how well does it stack up when compared to other treatments for depression?

Robert DeRubeis, PhD, is professor of psychology and associate dean for the social sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. He tells WebMD, "The evidence is consistent and convincing that cognitive therapy is an effective treatment for depression. And," he adds, "[that means] not just the milder forms of depression."

Large, well-designed studies that include hundreds of subjects have shown the following:

1. Cognitive therapy works as well as antidepressant medicines alone to improve mild to moderate depression.

"When conducted well, cognitive therapy works as quickly and as thoroughly as antidepressant medications," says DeRubeis, who has led several large studies of cognitive therapy for depression. "Used consistently, cognitive therapy may work better than antidepressants in the long run," he adds.

2. Cognitive therapy works as well as antidepressant medicines at preventing depression relapses.

DeRubeis tells WebMD that when a person continues using the skills he learned with cognitive therapy, those skills help prevent relapses, a common problem with depression. "Cognitive therapy appears to prevent the return of symptoms as well as taking medication," he says. "And it does it without medication."

3. Cognitive therapy reduces residual symptoms of depression.

After a "successful" treatment for depression, many people continue to have mild depressive symptoms. Adding cognitive therapy to the treatment plan helps reduce these residual symptoms.

Today on WebMD

Differences between feeling depressed and feeling blue.
jk rowling
Famous people who've struggled with persistent sadness.
depressed man sitting on hallway floor
Learn the truth about this serious illness.
Sad woman looking out of the window
Tips to stay the treatment course.
unhappy teen boy
Health Check
jk rowling
Pills with smiley faces
Teen girl huddled outside house
Depressed man sitting in hospital hallway
antidepressants slideshow
pill bottle
Winding path