Treating Teen Depression with CBT
In today’s society, the transition from childhood to adulthood is very lengthy and complex. Adolescence is a critical time for the development of advanced skills and functions. Teens must learn both emotional and behavioral independence from parents. Social comparison and peer-group approval become more important than ever, as teens begin to seek acceptance and reinforcement outside the family. Teens develop a sense of identity and begin to formulate long-term goals, and learn practical skills like self-care and money managing. Personal development in this stage can bring feelings of joy, excitement, and pride to a teenager. However, adolescence and its special challenges also include coping with emotional lows. Moodiness can be a part of any teenager’s development, but it is crucial to be able to recognize when your teen’s behaviors are more than “bad moods” and are a instead symptoms of a more serious condition.
Emotional changes are expected in a teenager, but there are certain feelings and behaviors that are indicative of clinical depression. Long periods of sadness can be a component of depression, but depression is about more than just being sad. Teens may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, and feel hopeless about the future. Depression often causes painfully low self-esteem, causing teens to feel worthless, or feel unusually guilty for “burdens” they feel that they place on family and friends. Parents need to be aware of some fundamental behaviors in depression, including withdrawing and avoidance of friends, family, and activities. Teens’ functioning will suffer, causing declines in academic work, eating too much or too little, and sleeping too much or too little. Teens may become more distressed, worrying over small things with frequent crying spells. If these feelings and behaviors persist, intervention is necessary. Fortunately, there are therapeutic strategies which can make all the difference in your teen’s life.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be specially suited to teenagers with depression. It is an active, goal-oriented type of therapy which has been supported through clinical research. It is designed to be a shorter course of treatment than talk therapies. In CBT, the therapist and the teenager work together to identify and correct the problematic cognitions, or automatic thought processes, and behaviors which trap the teen in depression.
The patterns of thought which are inherent in depression often result from what are called cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are ways of thinking that are negative, illogical, and cause dysfunction in a person’s life. The cognitive component of CBT seeks to address these and help teens overcome them. These are some common cognitive distortions which teens with depression may experience:
- Mental filtering. This is when a person acknowledges only the negative aspects of a situation and disregards the positive.
- Jumping to conclusions. Someone may assume something is fact without any evidence. This can include “mind reading,” where someone else’s feelings and thoughts are assumed, or “fortune telling,” where future events are assumed. These assumptions are inaccurately treated as facts.
- Generalizing – A single bad event or negative interaction can be seen as part of an overall negative pattern in life that one cannot escape from.
- Black-and-white thinking. This is an all-or-nothing mentality, where a person fails to recognize gray areas.
These and many other distorted patterns of thinking contribute to feelings of depression, but through CBT a teen will learn that these thoughts are unhealthy, and how to replace them with more rational, self-empowering thoughts.
Additionally, CBT is designed to teach teens lasting skills to cope with emotional struggles independently. Teens will learn social skills to help them re-engage with friends from whom they may have withdrawn, and learn coping strategies for when they will encounter distress in the future. The therapist and teen will create goals collaboratively, assign “homework” to track their success outside of sessions, and assess progress at each meeting. The active and collaborative nature of CBT supplements the structure and motivation a depressed teen may lack, and helps accelerate healing and recovery. Once your teen is able to overcome depression, he or she will be empowered to reach important milestones and enjoy success.
At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our child and adolescent therapists are specifically trained in CBT and provide specialized care to teens struggling with depression.