Orius Medical

5 CBT Based Techniques To Help You Deal With Depression

A psychologist and a patient

Depression is a mental health condition associated with persistent low mood, a sense of hopelessness and often fatigue. 

According to the UN, depression affects over 300 million people worldwide and is the number one cause of disability. 

Because depression is a complex illness that affects everyone differently, it is important to be aware of the top signs of depression so you know when to seek professional help.

While living with depression is highly challenging, there are treatments available, including pharmaceutical antidepressants as well as various therapeutic techniques.

Why use CBT to treat depression?

CBT, short for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is the most popular form of therapy for treating depression.

It is a practical, evidence-based form of therapy that involves analysing your thoughts and feelings and the relationship between them. It has been shown to be highly effective and can also be used for treating anxiety and many other mental health issues.

While CBT is just one of many tools available for treating depression, it is one of the most well studied and is a flexible and affordable treatment option. More recently, studies have shown that CBT delivered online can also be effective.

Additionally, CBT encourages patients to “be their own therapist”, and to practise the techniques they learn in their day to day life. Here are 5 powerful CBT based techniques and strategies to help you improve your mental well-being.

1. Tackle cognitive distortions by using cognitive restructuring

At the core of CBT is the recognition that our thought processes are often irrational and we can easily fall into flawed and unhelpful ways of thinking without realising. Known as cognitive distortions, these patterns of thought can contribute to depression and other mental health problems.

There are countless cognitive distortions, but some of the most common include:

  • Shoulds– having a strong and imbalanced sense of how things “should” be. In a complex and imperfect world, trying to impose our own rules of how things should be is often futile and can cause additional stress
  • Polarised Thinking- often called black and white thinking, polarised thinking lacks nuance and can lead to detrimental over-generalisations. For example, you may feel that if you sometimes make mistakes at work then you must be terrible at your job
  • Filtering– this involves focusing only on a certain portion of our experiences or information. People with depression often filter out all or most of their positive experiences, becoming absorbed only with the negative aspects of a situation

The first step, then, is to recognise any cognitive distortions you may have. Often it can be helpful to talk this through with a friend or therapist, as it can be hard to identify your own blind spots.

Once you are aware of your cognitive distortions, the next step is to practise what is known as cognitive restructuring. This is a 4 step process:

  1. Identify the automatic thoughts that are contributing to your dysfunction
  2. Identify the underlying cognitive distortions of the automatic thoughts
  3. Use the Socratic Method to question and challenge these thoughts
  4. Come up with rational responses to override the automatic thoughts and build new, healthier thought patterns

2. Use Behavioural analysis

Behavioural analysis is a key part of CBT. The oldest model for behavioural analysis is the ABC analysis. The model is comprised of three parts:

  1. Activating event
  2. Beliefs you hold about the event
  3. Consequences, including emotional reaction

The important thing to note is that A, the event or trigger, which can be external or internal, does not lead directly to the consequences. Instead, the final consequence is derived from your thoughts and beliefs about the activating event. This means that by changing your beliefs you can change the emotional effect that a situation will have on you.

Another popular model for behavioural analysis is the 5 P’s formulation. The 5 factors are:

  • Presenting problem(s)
  • Predisposing factors — situations or beliefs that make you vulnerable to the problem
  • Precipitating factors- the event that triggered it
  • Perpetuating factors- situations, beliefs or behaviours that cause the problem to persist
  • Protective factors- beliefs, behaviours or strategies that reduce your vulnerability

By working through this model you can gain greater insight into the underlying mechanisms that may be contributing to your mental health problems as well as the behaviours that may help alleviate certain issues.

3. Make A Plan

One of the most common symptoms of depression is a loss of motivation. This can lead to problems in professional and personal life, and can even interfere with a patient’s ability to follow a treatment programme.

As a result of this unreliable motivation, it is even more important to have a plan that will help you make progress towards your goals even in the times when you are suffering from low mood.

As always, it is a good idea to follow the SMART protocol when setting goals for yourself.

In addition, many people with depression find an approach known as successive approximation to be helpful

Successive approximation involves breaking tasks down into small, manageable parts. For instance, if you are unemployed, finding a new job may seem overwhelming but with successive approximation you would set much smaller goals that you can achieve on any given day.

This could mean setting yourself the task of writing an introduction on your CV or ironing your suit. The key is to make each step small enough that you can achieve it regardless of your mental state. In doing this, you can maintain forward momentum and a sense of achievement.

Another important element of a successful plan is setting time aside for pleasurable activities each day. Additionally, rewarding yourself with a guilty pleasure after completing your set tasks for the day can be a good way of maintaining motivation.

4. Keep A Journal

Journaling is a powerful tool that promotes self-reflection and can help you work through your emotions.

Another major benefit of journaling is that it is a natural complement to many of the other techniques on this list; by writing about your thoughts and feelings cognitive distortions may become more apparent and you may also notice “ABC” patterns that you can address.

It can also be a useful way of keeping track of your progress, helping you stay accountable to yourself and to see if any changes need to be made to your plan.

Perhaps the most significant benefit to journaling though is that it gives you an opportunity to practise positive filtering. As mentioned in point 1, it is common for those suffering from depression to have a negative filter, only paying attention to the events and situations that they find upsetting and thus perpetuating the vicious cycle.

By writing about the things you have enjoyed each day, as well as the things you feel grateful for, you can reverse this and choose to dwell on the positive experiences of your day to day life.

5. Practise Acceptance

Acceptance is at the heart of mindfulness, which is one of the most popular and well supported practices for improving mental health. It is also the basis of several forms of therapy closely related to CBT, including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (MBCT).

The practice of acceptance is also a natural antidote to certain cognitive distortions, in particular “should statements”; holding to a belief that things ought to be a certain way is the opposite of acceptance, which involves letting go of our expectations and living with reality as it is.

Although there are many ways to achieve a state of acceptance, the most popular and well researched is mindfulness meditation, a practice that involves observing your thoughts and feelings non-judgementally as they come and go.

The practice has considerable scientific support and has been shown to have various psychological benefits including reduced stress and improved focus.

Next steps

If you feel some of these describe your situation or you are concerned about your mental health then we recommend contacting your GP or a mental health professional.

In addition, here at Orius, we offer free teletherapy with qualified therapists. You can book an appointment here