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CBT has long been one of the “talk therapies” shown to be effective for depression in general. But why would CBT help Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), if the cause of this depression is a lack of light? In order to grasp this, it is important to understand the spiral of depression.
The Spiral of Depression and SAD
Depression, regardless of the cause, shows up as negative and sad feelings. These depressed feelings lead to negative thoughts and behavior. In turn, the depressive thoughts and behaviors actually contribute to more depressed feelings, which in turn contribute to more negative thoughts and behavior. This is the downward spiral of depression.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches that these negative thoughts and behaviors, while certainly influenced by a person’s mood, are not out of the person’s control. People can take conscious control of their thoughts and behaviors, even when depressed. They can stop the ones that make depression worse and adopt new ones that can make the depression better. CBT teaches how to do this.
The Power of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for SAD
Many people living at 38 degrees north latitude and higher tend to slow down and feel sluggish during the winter. Some will also experience a depressed or blue mood, others may have a full blown major depressive episode. This is Seasonal Affective Disorder.
How people think about the changing seasons and their symptoms, and how they respond by their behavior, can cause the symptoms to spiral and get worse or stop them in their tracks, keeping them at a manageable level. Though some people may naturally have more severe symptoms than others, each person can take control in their own scale.
People thinking that their moods are at the mercy of the changing seasons and that they are powerless to do anything about it can contribute to making symptoms of SAD worse. When day-length – something a person has absolutely no control over – is a trigger for symptoms, it is important for people to understand where their power and control lies. CBT can help.
CBT puts more power and control into the hands of the patient. Feeling powerful and in control in itself can be an antidote to depression. Feeling like a powerless victim is a formula for depression.
10,000 lux light therapy and anti-depressant medications can help people get relief from symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder but cognitive-behavioral therapy for SAD may provide better long-term results. CBT helps people thwart the downward spiral of depression. It helps them take control of thoughts and behaviors that make seasonal depression worse, and take action to make the depression better. For a condition like SAD, when symptoms are likely to reoccur, CBT provides people with excellent tools that can be used over and over to thwart future depressive symptoms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a specialty that requires certain training. People seeking CBT should ask the therapist if he or she specializes in it.