Depression counseling

Naomi Carr
Author: Naomi Carr Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Depressive disorders, such as major depressive disorder and persistent depression disorder, are common mental health conditions that can cause severe impairments in functioning and quality of life. Often, depression is best treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Various types of therapy are available, including mental health counseling.

What is depression counseling?

Depression counseling is a type of mental health talk therapy provided to individuals who are experiencing symptoms of depression. Mental health counselors can provide support and guidance around managing emotional distress by assisting individuals in learning how to cope with challenging symptoms and experiences [1].

Someone with depression may seek counseling if they have a specific issue they wish to work through, if they are struggling to overcome certain symptoms or behaviors, or for general support in managing their condition and improving their mental well-being [2].

What does depression counseling involve?

Counseling for depression can involve various techniques and approaches, depending on the counselor’s training and the requirements or preferences of the individual. Additionally, counseling could be provided to an individual, a couple, a family, or in a group [3].

Symptoms of depression may have emerged due to a specific stressor or event that can be the focus of discussion and treatment. Alternatively, it may have occurred due to a complex combination of factors, which can be explored and managed with a particular type of therapeutic intervention [4].

Some of the therapeutic interventions that can be provided in counseling include [4][5]:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a structured type of therapy that helps to recognize and challenge harmful thoughts and behaviors and provide positive coping strategies.
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT): IPT helps to treat specific issues within interpersonal relationships, including social dynamics, professional and social communication, family and spousal difficulties, and adapting after bereavement.
  • Psychodynamic therapy: Psychodynamic therapy involves exploring childhood and past experiences that may influence current emotions and behaviors, improving awareness of this impact, and learning how to alter ingrained behavior patterns.

The professional should have specialized training to provide these treatment plans. Not all counselors or therapists will be trained in all these areas. As such, if there is a specific type of therapy you would prefer to utilize, you can search for a professional with this specialized training [6][7].

Alternatively, counselors can provide a less structured or specialized type of therapy. This may look like discussing the individual’s symptoms and experiences and providing supportive guidance in managing emotional, professional, or practical difficulties [2].

Regardless, counseling can help individuals improve mental well-being through goal setting, building self-esteem, and learning communication and interpersonal skills. The counselor can help the individual to recognize solutions to emotional and life difficulties and develop problem-solving and coping strategies [2][4].

Counseling is often provided in a limited number of sessions, depending on the focus of treatment and type of intervention. Typically, sessions will be between 45 minutes to one hour and may be provided weekly or more regularly if required. Sessions will usually continue until a resolution or management strategy is found for the individual’s specific concerns [3].

Is depression counseling the same as psychotherapy?

The words ‘counseling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ are often used interchangeably. Both terms reference forms of talk therapy where a licensed professional helps individuals cope with emotional distress. However, they are technically somewhat different.

Counseling is typically provided to someone experiencing a specific issue or concern and can help guide the individual through this time. Counseling is usually delivered over several sessions and stopped when the issue is managed effectively. This may be related to mental health but can also focus on education, career, or other life aspects [2][3].

Psychotherapy can be a more long-term treatment for someone with a persistent or severe mental health condition, including depression, a trauma-related disorder, or bipolar disorder. Additionally, counseling might be used within psychotherapy treatment [7].

Usually, a psychotherapist has more advanced mental health training than a counselor, although both require some training and accreditation. Psychotherapy could be provided by a psychiatrist, psychologist, specialized therapist, or other licensed mental health professional [5].

Specific treatment approaches are often used in psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Counselors may not be trained in these types of therapy, so they may utilize a more general supportive approach to treatment. However, certain counselors are trained to use these specific techniques [1][5].

So, while technically different, counseling can occur within psychotherapy, and various psychotherapy approaches may occur within counseling. As such, the two overlap in several aspects and can both be valuable treatments for conditions such as depression.

Benefits of depression counseling

There are numerous benefits to receiving counseling for depression, including the following [1][3][6][7]:

  • Gaining a better understanding of your condition: Developing awareness and education around depression can help to reduce its impact and improve recovery.
  • Reducing emotional distress: Various types of counseling and therapy can help to manage and reduce emotional pain and other symptoms of depression.
  • Learning coping strategies: Developing strategies to manage depression can reduce current symptoms and help to prevent or minimize the impact of future relapse.
  • Improving self-esteem: Counseling can helpa person gain confidence and self-esteem, thereby reducing depression symptoms with improved resilience and functioning.
  • Improving communication and interpersonal relationships: Counseling can provide interpersonal skills to improve social and professional relationships, thereby helping reduce social isolation or professional functioning issues.
  • Helping to make important life decisions: Counseling can provide an opportunity to explore potential options and consequences of specific life decisions. For example, individuals may wish to discuss the risks of using medicinal treatment during and following pregnancy. A counselor can help with exploring these options, the potential risks of treated and untreated depression during pregnancy, and how to manage any emotional difficulties that may arise throughout this time.
  • Better outcomes: Evidence shows that utilizing talk therapies in the treatment of depression can significantly improve recovery time, reduce relapse or recurrence of depression symptoms, and reduce the risk of physical health complications [8][9].

Does Medicare cover counseling for depression?

Medicare can cover 80% of mental health counseling and therapy costs. You should check your approved amounts as well as any deductibles and coinsurance costs. Furthermore, you may need to check if the counselor or therapist you wish to meet with accepts Medicare assignments [10].

Other ways to treat depression

Aside from counseling and psychotherapy, treatment for depression might include medications. Furthermore, it is possible to manage or reduce depression symptoms with self-care techniques.


Antidepressants are a group of medications often used in the treatment of depression. There are several types of antidepressants, and they each work slightly differently. People have varying responses to antidepressants, so what works well for one person may not be effective for another. As such, it may be necessary to try several different medications before finding one that works well for you [2][11].

Commonly prescribed antidepressant medications include [2][9]:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as citalopram, fluoxetine, and sertraline. This type of antidepressant will typically be the first to be prescribed, as SSRIs are often effective and cause few side effects. However, other medications can be prescribed if they do not work well.
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as duloxetine and venlafaxine.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as imipramine and amitriptyline.
  • Other antidepressants, such as mirtazapine and bupropion.

It is vital to take medications exactly as your doctor prescribes to prevent adverse effects. If you experience prolonged or distressing side effects or wish to stop or change your medication, you should discuss this with your doctor, and they can make necessary alterations to your prescription.


Several self-care techniques and strategies can help with managing symptoms of depression by improving general physical and mental well-being, such as [1][2][11]:

  • Eating a healthy diet: Research suggests that high-fat and high-sugar content foods can increase symptoms of depression. In contrast, foods high in vitamins and minerals can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Engaging in regular exercise: Studies show that regular exercise can help to boost mood, increase blood and oxygen flow around the body, and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
  • Getting plenty of sleep: Maintaining a sleep schedule that includes setting a specific time to sleep and wake up can help to improve sleep quality. Consistently having a good night’s sleep effectively improves physical and mental health.
  • Engaging in hobbies and social activities: Doing things you enjoy and spending time with loved ones can help to boost your mood and reduce isolation.
  • Relaxation exercises: Utilizing relaxation and breathing exercises can help to reduce stress and symptoms of depression.
  • Mindfulness: Studies have shown that mindfulness techniques, including yoga and meditation, can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • Avoiding substances: Caffeine, alcohol, and drugs can cause or worsen symptoms of depression, impact sleep quality, and reduce medication effectiveness, so it is advisable to avoid or minimize intake of these substances.
  1. Meyers, L. (2015). Treating Depression and Anxiety. Counseling Today. Retrieved from
  2. National Health Service. (Reviewed 2019). Clinical Depression. NHS. Retrieved from
  3. American Counseling Association. (n.d). What is Professional Counseling?ACA. Retrieved from
  4. British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. (2023). Depression – What Therapy Can Help With. BACP. Retrieved from
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (Reviewed 2023). What is Psychotherapy?APA. Retrieved from
  6. American Psychological Association. (2016, Updated 2023). Overcoming Depression: How Psychologists Help with Depressive Disorders. APA. Retrieved from
  7. National Institute of Mental Health. (Reviewed 2023). Psychotherapies. NIMH. Retrieved from
  8. Carta, M., Petretto, D., Adamo, S., Bhat, K., Lecca, M., Mura, G., Carta, V., Angermeyer, M., & Moro, M. (2012). Counseling in Primary Care Improves Depression and Quality of Life. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health: CP & EMH, 8, 152–157. Retrieved from
  9. Cuijpers, P., Noma, H., Karyotaki, E., Vinkers, C.H., Cipriani, A., & Furukawa, T.A. (2020). A Network Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Psychotherapies, Pharmacotherapies and Their Combination in the Treatment of Adult Depression. World Psychiatry, 19(1), 92-107. Retrieved from
  10. Medicare. (2023). Medicare Coverage of Mental Health Services. Retrieved from
  11. Mind. (2023). Depression. Mind. Retrieved from
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Naomi Carr
Author Naomi Carr Writer

Naomi Carr is a writer with a background in English Literature from Oxford Brookes University.

Published: Jul 20th 2023, Last edited: Feb 21st 2024

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Jul 20th 2023