How can psychotherapy and counselling help with depression?

When suffering from depression we can feel very alone but in fact it is one of the most common, increasingly so, mental health conditions of our time.

We can feel ashamed of not feeling brighter, more positive, more able to help ourselves but this only compounds how awful it feels. Speaking to someone about how you feel whether a GP or finding someone to talk to in more depth, like a therapist or counsellor, is proven to be able to provide relief and over time may help you to move on from feeling so desperately low.  Finding the courage to take the first step is not easy, but can be the first step towards a happier state of mind.

What is depression?

Feeling sad, particularly after a loss, set-back or separation is difficult but usually these feelings pass. Feelings which come and go like this are not depression, just a usual part of life and to be expected. Depression usually occurs over far longer periods – weeks or months.  

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How can therapy help?

Psychotherapy offers relief to sufferers of depression in that it provides a safe non-judgemental space in which to confide in someone as to how you are really feeling. Putting on a brave face to the outside world or taking refuge in withdrawing from people instead is exhausting and isolating.

Secondly, as you talk about how you feel the therapist may be able to help you think about not only the conscious reasons as to why you feel this way, but the hidden unconscious ones of which you may not be aware – this is where the treatment differs from CBT, and why it is more “in-depth” and long-lasting in terms of the change it can bring about. 

Working through these complex feelings, the ones that have led to you feeling depressed, by talking about them can provide relief allowing you to resume life with a more hopeful outlook, more realistic sense of self-esteem and re-connecting you with others around you.

What is the research evidence for psychotherapy in the case of depression?

These are a couple of the headline findings from the recent Tavistock Adult Depression Study, a long-running trial from 2002 to 2011, which examined whether psychoanalytic psychotherapy helped adults suffering from chronic depression who had not been helped by NHS treatments such as anti-depressants or short courses of CBT:

44 per cent of the patients given 18 months of psychoanalytic psychotherapy no longer had major depressive disorder when followed up 2 years after the therapy had ended, compared with 10 per cent of those receiving current NHS treatments.

Those receiving psychotherapy saw significantly more benefits to their quality of life, general well-being and social and personal functioning.

Further Reading

The article Therapy Wars, a Long Read from The Guardian is very long, but provides an interesting account of the evidence base for both Psychotherapy and CBT in the case of depression.

If you'd like to make an appointment to talk about depression or any other problems please feel free to make contact below

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How may people with depression feel?

  • sad, lethargic and with little energy
  • critical of yourself or that you have failed in some way
  • you might find little pleasure in everyday things 
  • you could feel very stuck in these feelings and that you can’t see a way out 
  • you might feel that life is not worth living, you might have suicidal feelings

If you do feel suicidal there are places to turn to for immediate help: don't hesitate to contact your local A&E dept., your GP or The Samaritans.


What kind of treatments are there?

The NHS currently prescribes various anti-depressants, which may improve low mood by increasing levels of a group of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. There are many different types of anti-depressants and sometimes it takes a while to find the right ones for you. There is no reason why you cannot take anti-depressants at the same time as trying a Talking Therapy such as psychotherapy, in fact this may be recommended for serious cases of persistent depression.

GPs may also offer you Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT. This is a short-term counselling treatment working with conscious thoughts – often repetitive negative ones – that may help you gain more control over how you see yourself and how you negotiate life. CBT usually lasts 6 weeks.  

Click here to read how anxiety differs from depression and how therapy can help.