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To develop a preliminary model of the experiences of people undergoing combined treatment with antidepressant medication and cognitive–behavioural therapy (CBT) for depression.The study used a qualitative methodology informed by grounded theory.Participants were 12 adults who had received treatment with antidepressant medication and CBT for depression. Participants engaged in a semistructured interview about their experiences. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using components of grounded theory methodology.Medication was often seen as an initial aid to surviving a crisis. Staying on medication longer term resulted in some participants feeling caught in a ‘drug loop’. Feeling that medication was unhelpful or actively harmful could contribute to participants seeking CBT. Medics also offered information on CBT and acted as gatekeepers, meaning that negotiation was sometimes necessary. CBT was described as a process of being guided towards skilled self-management. Occasionally, participants felt that medication had facilitated CBT at one or more stages. Conversely, developing skilled self-management through CBT could reduce feelings of dependency on medication and affect several of the other elements maintaining the ‘drug loop’.Antidepressant medication and CBT are perceived and experienced differently, with CBT often being seen as an alternative to medication, or even as a means to discontinue medication. Service users’ experiences and beliefs about medication may thus affect their engagement and goals in CBT, and it may be important for therapists to consider this.