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Cognitive Therapy for Depression: With or Without Antidepressants?

Cognitive therapy has become the standard "talk therapy" used to treat depression. In addition to its high rate of success, it is also cost-effective. The benefits from cognitive therapy often come in weeks rather than months or years, as may be the case with other treatments. 

But can cognitive therapy replace antidepressant medications? For some people, says DeRubeis, the answer is yes.

But it doesn't have to be an "either-or" decision. In some studies, cognitive therapy for depression worked even better when combined with antidepressants.

Because everyone's situation is unique, the decision about how to use cognitive therapy should always be made by the patient and the mental health provider together.

Cognitive Therapy for Depression: Think Well, Feel Better

Depression demonstrates how closely linked the mind and body are. People who are depressed, frequently feel bad physically, not just sad or "down." Besides helping to improve a person's mood, cognitive therapy can also improve the physical symptoms of depression. It does this by:

  • improving a person's overall energy level
  • increasing the quality and duration of sleep
  • improving appetite and restoring the pleasure of eating
  • heightening a person's sex drive

Cognitive therapy can also relieve chronic pain. Many people with chronic pain also have depression. According to Beverly E. Thorn, PhD, cognitive therapy treats both at once." Thorn is professor of psychology at the University of Alabama and author of Cognitive Therapy for Chronic Pain. She says that after a course of cognitive therapy for chronic pain, "patients' symptoms related to depression are reduced as well."

The effects of cognitive therapy are often longer lasting than pain medicines. "Pain medications have all kinds of side effects and can actually add to depression," Thorn says. With cognitive therapy, patients learn coping skills and how to apply them. When they do, there is less need for pain medications.

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