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For depression, therapy should focus on thoughts rather than behavior

May 13, 2010 | 10:24 am

Cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective for even severely depressed people, but the therapy should focus on changing how people think instead of focusing on how they behave, according to a new study.

Encouraging behavior changes to improve mood appears to make a lot of sense. Depressed people are often advised to go for a walk, visit friends and schedule activities. But it may be more helpful for therapists to work with patients on their thought processes, such as challenging negative thoughts and replacing those thoughts with more positive and realistic ideas. Researchers at Ohio State University studied 60 patients with severe depression. Various therapists treated the patients and the sessions were analyzed to rate how much the therapists relied on cognitive and behavioral methods of therapy. The patients completed questionnaires to track their depression.

The study found that patients improved when therapists focused on cognitive techniques but didn't improve when therapists focused on behavioral techniques. The effects of cognitive techniques were strongest in the first few weeks of therapy. The patients who improved the most also were the ones who collaborated with the therapist on a treatment plan and who followed the plan.

"If you're a patient and willing to fully commit to the therapy process, our data suggest you will see more benefit," the lead author of the study, Daniel Strunk, said in a news release. The study is published online in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy.

-- Shari Roan

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