Fighting Depressive Thoughts with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Nature Road Through Redwood National Park

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapeutic modality for depression. For many people, treating depression is an important aspect of eating disorder recovery. This is because many people with disordered eating also deal with depression [1]. In fact, depression is the most common mood disorder that people with eating disorders struggle with [1].

Depression can be life threatening, given the increased risk for suicide. Aside from suicidal risk, reducing depressive symptoms can improve the overall quality of life. Fortunately, there are good treatment options available for depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the most effective treatment methods for combating depression [2]. CBT aims to treat depression through confronting negative thoughts. Changing negative thoughts can create positive changes in behavior and mood.

There are three main ways that CBT can help fight depressive thoughts:

Increase Awareness of Negative Thoughts

Often the negative thoughts that cause distress are irrational. Another tricky thing about changing thought patterns is that these patterns tend to be automatic. This can make it difficult to notice them. CBT therapy can help someone learn to recognize negative thoughts. The ability to recognize harmful thoughts is essential in stopping them.

This can be beneficial for reducing symptoms of depression. For example, one sign of depression is isolating. If someone isolates because of beliefs they have about their social circle, it would be helpful to change these thoughts. CBT therapy would aim to decrease isolating through first helping someone become aware of the thoughts that lead to this behavior.

Techniques to Stop the Thoughts

A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy therapist can teach techniques to interrupt the harmful thought patterns. Therapeutic help during this stage is essential because there are different types of negative thoughts. In fact, CBT therapy has defined categories of distorted thought patterns.

African American Black Woman calling someone about Cognitive Behavioral TherapyFor example, one kind of negative pattern is mental filtering. Mental filtering is when someone only focuses on the negative aspects of something. This can lead to depressive symptoms. For example, if someone is only focusing on the negative, it is likely they will feel more upset.

It can be difficult to stop thought patterns if they are habitual and feel realistic. However, usually negative thoughts are irrational. Each type of negative thought has corresponding techniques that a CBT therapist can help individuals learn to use.

Develop Logical, Positive Ways of Thinking

An important part of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approach is developing logical and positive ways of thinking. Learning to create reality-based thought patterns can increase someone’s ability to cope with difficult situations. This is because of the way someone thinks influences how they feel and act.

Improving thought patterns can help people recover from depression [2]. However, it is important to have guidance from a trained mental health professional during this process. This support can help ensure that CBT is used appropriately for the greatest chance of healing and lasting recovery.


[1] National Eating Disorder Awareness (n.d) Statistics and Research on Eating Disorders.

[2] Dobson, K.S. (1989). A meta-analysis of the efficacy of cognitive therapy for depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,57(3), 414-419.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published July 28, 2020, on
Reviewed & Approved on July 28, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC