Evidence-Based Treatments for Depression

Nov 4, 2021 | Depression

Discover a variety of treatment options for individuals struggling with depression. These include mood-stabilizing medications and psychotherapy for symptom management. Psychotherapy alone can be advantageous for mild depression, while antidepressants may be more effective for severe symptoms. Combining these treatments often leads to the best outcomes. Gain a better understanding by exploring this comprehensive overview of evidence-based depression treatments.

What is Evidence-Based Practice for Depression?

Evidence-based practice means the therapist takes three important things into consideration: their own expertise, the patient’s preferences and values, and scientific evidence to guide which treatments they use. These treatments have research showing they are effective. Evidence-based treatments for major depression include:

  • Medication
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal Therapy
  • Problem Solving Therapy
  • Family Psychoeducation
  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Let’s take a look at what these treatments are and how they work.


We’ve created a comprehensive list of Antidepressent medications already. Instead of repeating it all here, you can read more about antidepressant medications and their benefits and concerns on that page.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a well-established treatment for people with depression that blends two types of therapies: cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy focuses on identifying a person’s thoughts and beliefs so they can learn how those beliefs influence their mood and actions. CBT aims to change a person’s thinking to be more adaptive and healthier.
  • Behavioral therapy focuses on a person’s actions and aims to change unhealthy behavior patterns.

With CBT, a person can focus on their current problems and how to solve them by:

  • Learning how to identify and correct distorted thoughts or negative self-talk often associated with depressed feelings
  • Recognizing and changing inaccurate beliefs
  • Taking part in more rewarding and enjoyable activities to improve mood (behavioral activation)Relating to self and others in more positive ways
  • Learning problem-solving skills
  • Changing behaviors

Interpersonal Therapy

Interpersonal Therapy is a short-term evidence-based treatment that specifically focuses on how depression impacts personal relationships, such as those with family and friends. Notably, these relationships may play a role in both the onset of depression and ongoing symptoms. In the context of interpersonal therapy, the therapist and patient collaborate to enhance one or two problems that arise in the patient’s interactions with others. Moreover, it is important to maintain an ongoing focus on these interpersonal problems throughout the treatment process. The underlying concept is that by making positive changes in their relationships and increasing their social support, individuals can experience an improvement in their depressive symptoms.

Problem Solving Therapy

Problem Solving Therapy is a short-term, structured treatment based on the premise that problems of daily life can cause and maintain symptoms of depression. By learning to identify and work on these problems, depressive symptoms will improve. People in Problem Solving Therapy will set specific and realistic goals, and ideally gain a sense of control over their lives. Primary care and community settings sometimes offer this treatment.

Family Education

Mental illness affects the whole family. Moreover, evidence-based family depression treatment can play an important role in helping both the person with depression and their relatives. Additionally, family psychoeducation is one way families can work together towards recovery. During this process, the family and clinician meet together to discuss the problems they’re experiencing. Furthermore, families also attend educational sessions where they learn basic facts about mental illness, coping skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, and ways to work together toward recovery.

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT)

Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) is most effective for people with the greatest needs, such as a history of multiple hospitalizations. In ACT, the person receives treatment from a team of usually ten to twelve professionals. The team includes case managers, a psychiatrist, several nurses and social workers, vocational specialists, substance abuse treatment specialists, and peer specialists. The team provides coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and maintains small caseloads. There is usually one staff for every ten clients. Services provided include case management, comprehensive treatment planning, crisis intervention, medication management, individual supportive therapy, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation services (i.e. supported employment), and peer support.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Another evidence-based practice used to treat severe or life-threatening depression is Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It is usually used when other treatments have not worked. It’s often given in combination with medication, psychotherapy, family therapy, and behavioral therapy. It works by briefly sending electrical currents to the brain through electrodes placed on the head. The electrical current can last up to eight seconds, producing a short seizure. This brain stimulation helps relieve depression symptoms by changing brain chemicals. This includes neurotransmitters like serotonin and natural pain relievers called endorphins. To begin, a patient performs ECT depression treatment two to three times a week for two to three weeks. Then, they may do maintenance treatments one time each week, tapering down to one time each month. This may continue for several months to a year to reduce the risk of relapse.


Understanding evidence-based treatments for depression holds significant value for supporters of a loved one during a depression diagnosis. Firstly, gaining knowledge about these treatments shows a genuine commitment to their well-being. Moreover, it confirms you as a reliable resource when your loved one seeks to discuss their options. Furthermore, understanding this information enables you to better grasp their experiences. Ultimately, investing in knowledge about depression and available treatments becomes an investment in fostering a stronger relationship.

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