It’s that time of year again–the days are getting shorter, and the weather’s getting colder. It’s dark when you leave for work, and it’s dark when you come home from work.
Many people are affected by this change in the seasons. It’s called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and although people can be affected by it in the summer, it’s most commonly associated with late autumn and winter; it’s thought to be caused by a lack of light.
To make up for a lack of light, people who find themselves with winter depression often turn to conventional Full Spectrum light boxes–more commonly known as light boxes–to make them feel better; the theory behind them is that they’re able to effectively replicate sunshine.
However, a new study suggests that another form of winter depression therapy could be more powerful and effective, and this therapy is one that we’re all more than familiar with: talking.
The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry on Thursday, showed that cognitive behavioural therapy, a form of talk therapy, produced benefits that outlasted light therapy sessions for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is a common type of psychotherapy that started with treating depression, but now treats a variety of mental disorders. It helps you become aware of negative thinking so that you can see challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective and positive way.
“Light therapy is a treatment that suppresses symptoms as long as you’re using it,” states lead author Kelly Rohan, who’s a psychology professor at the University of Vermont. “So if you’re not using it, there’s no reason to expect the continued benefit for a treatment that works that way, whereas cognitive behavioural therapy teaches skills.”
The study tracked 177 participants who suffer from major depression that followed a seasonal schedule–half of which received six weeks of daily light therapy, while the other half received 12 sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy over the same period of time. And while both treatments showed initial improvements, 46% of those who received light therapy had their depression return, while only 27% of those who received cognitive behavioural therapy saw their depression come back.
The goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to change the negative thinking patterns and behaviours that people experience while depressed.
Rohan says that cognitive behavioural therapy puts the person in the driver’s seat, and gives the patient a sense of agency and control in facing their depression. “For patients with SAD and providers who treat SAD, there’s another way,” says Rohan. “We can think outside the box. The good news is we can change our thoughts and behaviors. We can’t change what time the sun rises and sets.”