Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is overrated.

Many of us experience depression’s effects on multiple levels: emotional, social, physical, and/or mental. We feel a lack of energy on a physical level; we have overwhelming or dulled emotions; or we may have trouble coming up with the right words.

And sometimes, our biggest issue is that we unintentionally look at the world in unhelpful ways.

How big a part of the puzzle is this last piece for you? Perhaps sizable, but probably not the root of all your symptoms. That’s the problem with treating CBT as a holy grail, cure-all approach to depression:

Because different parts of the depression happy meal have different causes, they operate by different mechanisms and have different solutions. So while CBT tackles the cognitive biases often associated with depression, it neglects or even potentially worsens the other aspects. It’s worth considering the full story before putting all your eggs in the cognitive behavioral basket.

Unwanted Side Effects

Amidst the hype surrounding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, researchers decided to study whether its use has any risks. The results were surprising and enlightening: yes, CBT can cause unwanted side effects.

Because different parts of the depression happy meal have different causes, they have different solutions.

Since the study looked at CBT, a form of psychotherapy, it used a specialized rubric to measure side effects – different from how you’d measure them from a prescription drug, for instance.

Researchers found that out of all patients studied, almost half (43%) left cognitive behavioral therapy with at least one unwanted side effect — more than the 38% percent of people experiencing side effects on SSRI antidepressants.

For further reference, only 25% of SSRI side effects are seen as ‘bothersome’ or ‘very bothersome.’ Compare that to CBT: 40% of CBT patients’ side effects are considered ‘severe’ or ‘very severe.’ More shocking still, those who experienced CBT side effects faced almost 4 separate effects, on average.

What Are These CBT Side Effects?

The unwanted effects reported from cognitive behavioral therapy range from mild to ‘very severe.’ Here’s a list the researchers compiled from patient reports:

  • worsening mental health state (“deterioration”)
  • suicidality
  • breakups
  • feelings of shame and guilt
  • intensive crying and emotional disturbance during sessions

“40% of CBT patients’ side effects are considered ‘severe’ or ‘very severe.'”

Every therapy method has its risks and drawbacks. However, these potentially troublesome side effects should give us all reason to pause when choosing how we’ll heal from depression.

Additionally, these effects should encourage those interested in CBT to try it in a safe environment, preferably in-person and with someone you identify with (this may mean shopping around for a good provider).

CBT: Not The Only Tool In Your Box

CBT is genuinely a helpful tool in the fight against depression. But while the news and even experts may have you believe it’s a miracle cure, it’s like any tool — it has its drawbacks.

Especially with the potential for challenging side effects, CBT shouldn’t be pushed as the end-all cure for depression. Given the potential for challenging side effects, we should use caution when beginning the process – especially in less-controlled environments with less trustworthy providers, like with online CBT services.

If you’re going to begin the CBT process (which we’re not discouraging), at least make sure you have the support to get through the rough patches and unexpected negatives. Supportiv is accessible 24/7, where someone will always be there to understand and listen. No judgement (or side effects) here.