How Therapy Helps with Depression

How Therapy Helps with Depression

January 15, 2021

Depression is a common mental health condition that affects millions of teens across the nation. Teen depression is actually more common among adolescents and teens than many realize. In teens, depression causes persistent and sometimes overwhelming feelings of sadness. These are often accompanied by a loss of interest in everyday activities, which formerly brought joy and curiosity. When adolescents and teens are depressed, it can impact them physically, emotionally and have an adverse effect on their overall well-being.

Depression in teens and adults is often caused by stressors that are experienced as part of everyday life. However, the stressors that increase depression symptoms in teens are often different than those that affect adults. For teens, issues such as peer pressure, academic pressures, hormones, and social concerns can result in various emotional changes. For some, the temporary lows that are a part of “growing up” become more than just temporary; they evolve into symptoms of depression. Teen depression is not something your teen can overcome through willpower alone. Chronic depression can have significant consequences and often requires mental health treatment. For many teens, the symptoms of depression can be effectively reduced with treatment (including medication and therapy) at a program that specializes in teen mental health needs such as Hillcrest.

Recognizing Teen Depression

To better understand how therapy helps with teen depression, it is first beneficial to understand how depression presents in teens. As previously noted, depression looks different across various age demographics, so what may indicate depression for an adult may not for your teen. Teen’s frequently have moments where they have mood swings or just want to be left alone. These normal emotions are part of the growth and change that accompanies puberty. The years between (roughly) age 12 and 17 are full of changes. All of these can often combine to produce overwhelming and difficult emotions that are challenging to understand or navigate. It can be equally as challenging for parents to determine if the emotion your child is experiencing is “teen angst” or a signal of depression.

The signs and symptoms of teen depression frequently include changes to your teen’s normal behavior and attitude. If your teen is typically outgoing and social, but they have begun isolating themselves or refusing to take part in activities or hobbies, it may be a sign of concern. Depression is relatively common among teens. It is estimated that approximately one out of every eleven kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen will experience depression. These statistics indicate that depression is more common among teens than adults.

Treating Teen Depression

If there is a bright spot to be found in conversations about teen mental health, it is that depression is a highly treatable diagnosis. Some reports indicate treatment success rates as high as eighty to ninety percent. One of the reasons for this is how depression is treated. Depression is often treated with medications, psychotherapy, or a combination of both. At Hillcrest, we consider how each of these treatments may benefit your teen while creating a unique and individualized treatment plan that addresses not only their current mental health but the root causes of their depression. As with many illnesses, chronic or otherwise, the sooner you help your teen seek treatment, the better their chances for success.

Treatment for teen depression will not look the same for every teen. Your teen’s treatment program should be designed specifically for them while taking their individual mental health, physical health, and spiritual health needs into consideration. A combination of treatments is often the most effective. Once your teen completes an initial treatment program, maintenance therapy, including medication, ongoing therapy, and lifestyle changes, is useful in helping prevent relapse. Each element of a comprehensive treatment model helps treat and reduce symptoms of depression in various ways.


The first and, in many cases, the cornerstone of an evidence-based treatment program for depression is therapy. Psychotherapy, also referred to as “talk therapy,” is a proven form of therapy frequently used to treat depression and other types of mental health conditions in patients of all ages. During psychotherapy sessions, your teen will speak with a trained therapist in a safe space, allowing them to explore and better understand the behaviors and emotions that contribute to their symptoms.  Psychotherapy can take place in individual, group, or family settings, making it a very universal treatment that is effective throughout the recovery journey. Because teens (and adults) often respond better to one type of treatment than another, at Hillcrest, our providers offer different types of psychotherapy to help meet each patient’s needs. Some of the most common examples of psychotherapy treatments include the following.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a form of therapy that encourages your teen to focus on how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related. During a therapy session, a therapist will encourage your teen to explore unhealthy or harmful thought patterns and consider how those may contribute to self-destructive beliefs and actions. By examining these thoughts and behaviors, your teen can begin to develop safe and healthy ways of thinking that will result in healthier behaviors and emotions. Studies on cognitive-behavioral therapy participants show changes to brain activity, which suggests this form of therapy can help improve overall brain function as well.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy is heavily rooted in cognitive-behavioral therapy traditions, with one primary exception. The dialectical behavior therapy model encourages accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and behaviors instead of struggling with them. Through validation and acceptance, change becomes possible, and recovery can begin. During a therapy session, the therapist will help your teen find a balance between acceptance and change. They will also help your teen learn and practice new skills (such as healthy coping strategies and mindfulness practice), so they are better able to improve and reconcile unhealthy thoughts and behaviors when they arise. Dialectical behavior therapy is also a proven treatment for long-lasting recovery. It helps reduce the intensity of negative emotion (or behavior) and uses positive reinforcement to motive change through recognizing your teen’s strengths.

Interpersonal Therapy

Often the relationships one has with others can be a crucial element of their depression symptoms. Interpersonal therapy helps reduce these symptoms by examining the relationships your teen has with others in their lives. These relationships could be those with family and loved ones or with members of their social and academic communities. The goal of interpersonal therapy is to improve your teen’s interpersonal skills; therefore, enhancing their relationships. During a therapy session, the therapist will help your teen evaluate their interactions with others. They will also encourage your teen to try and recognize negative patterns and behaviors such as aggression and social isolation. The goal of interpersonal therapy is to help your teen learn and practice healthy strategies to counter depression symptoms by understanding and interacting in a positive and healthy way with others.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy helps to treat depression by encouraging participants to recognize negative behavior and emotions that are rooted in past events. This type of therapy often utilizes therapy practices such as open-ended questions and free association. These techniques encourage people to say and consider whatever comes to mind during the therapy session. By examining past adversities, your teen can learn to overcome harmful behaviors and emotions caused by specific experiences or events.

Although therapy is a first-line treatment for depression, some find combination therapies to be successful. In these cases, medications are combined with evidence-based therapy models to help reduce the severity of specific symptoms so that therapy can be more effective. Medications are not suitable in all instances and for all teens. For some, pre-existing physical health conditions or other circumstances could reduce certain medications’ effectiveness or safety. Before medications can be prescribed, your teen’s primary care provider or mental health counselor should conduct a complete evaluation. At Hillcrest, our medical team will continuously monitor medication administration to ensure ongoing success and safety. Many teens (and their families) worry about being “on medications for life” when discussing ongoing and long-term mental health treatment. It is important to note that in many cases, medications (if used at all) are a short-term addition to a long-term treatment plan. Your teen’s mental health provider can explain more about how medications are used and how they are best phased out of your teen’s treatment plan.

At Hillcrest, we understand depression is a challenge that affects more and more teens each day. As a parent or caregiver, it can be challenging to watch your teen struggle with depression. You may notice a change to your once happy teen that are difficult to understand or manage without outside help. Depression comes in different forms and presents differently for each person it affects. For some, it will be short-lived or a one-time event linked to a specific time in their lives. For others, depressive episodes may result in struggles that last much longer or return frequently. With an individualized, comprehensive treatment plan designed for your teen’s unique mental health needs, our team at Hillcrest can help your teen and your family develop a better understanding of their illness and how to reduce and improve symptoms. Through treatment, we can help your teen learn healthy and positive coping strategies they can use when faced with triggers or experiencing events or emotions that could trigger a relapse in their symptoms.

If you are ready to seek treatment for your teen’s depression and are curious about how our programs at Hillcrest may be able to help your teen start their journey towards recovery from depression, please reach out to our treatment team today. Our caring and compassionate staff are ready to help.