Talking therapy has been shown to be a powerful treatment of depression. Many studies have shown that combining depression medicine with therapy can be particularly effective. For instance, a large-scale trial involving more than 400 patients with treatment-resistant depression found that the use of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) alongside depression medication significantly reduced symptoms of depression. (Otto, Michael W, Wisniewski, Stephen R, 2013). But what should the therapist and someone with depression be talking about?
If the therapist was from a CBT perspective, the conversation might revolve around past experiences, dormant belief systems, self-constructed theories, unhelpful thinking mechanisms, the connection between thoughts, mood and behaviour and so on. If the therapist was adopting a more psychodynamic approach referencing drives and forces within the person, particularly the ‘unconscious’, and between the different structures of the personality may colour the conversation. However, research highlights the benefits of incorporating gratitude-building exercises within the therapy session. These studies suggest that therapists should be helping depressed clients focus on what is right about their lives and to count their blessings more. Such exercises reduce depressive symptoms.
For instance, research has shown that individuals who kept a Three Good Things journal in which they recorded three things that went well each day and their beliefs about what caused the positive event for one week reported significantly fewer symptoms of depression and significantly higher levels of happiness for six months (Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005). The beneficial effects for subjects practicing the three good things exercise began to show one month after the posttest and these benefits were sustained through the three and six month time interval assessments. Although only instructed to practice the exercise for one week those participants who adhered to the strategy scored highest for happiness gains in the long-term.
People with depression have an extreme negative bias in how they process their world. This is not by choice. Their inner-biology ferments and fosters this negative processing of themselves, others and their world. In such circumstances, it is understandable how gratitude exercises would be very challenging – nearly a bit like the wrong medicine. But including a brief count your blessings exercise within the therapeutic session and more importantly sustaining such exercises between the sessions may promote some cracks in their negative constructs.
Indeed, practising gratitude is something that is not only relevant to people with depression. Leading gratitude researcher Dr. Michael McCullough’s studies show that when people regularly engage a systematic cultivation of gratitude, they experience a variety of measurable benefits, which include psychological, physical and interpersonal. We all need to switch the light on. It is too easy to stay in the darkness.
c) Shane Martin (www.moodwatchers.com)
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