I wouldn’t say depression and I are friends, but we’re definitely old acquaintances. I’ve tried different therapies to treat my depression. Counseling, journaling, herbal treatments, antidepressant medications, self-help books-each has helped me in some way.
The best treatment I’ve found is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), also called Rational Emotive therapy. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists (NACBT) says CBT is a collection of techniques which seeks to root out the distorted thinking that causes unhealthy behavior.
I remember studying Rational Emotive Therapy back in college, 26 years ago. I thought then that of all the approaches we explored that RET seemed the most promising for treating depression. Struggling with depression myself, I’ve been able to prove the effectiveness of RET.
It’s easy to misunderstand depression as simply an emotion. While it is a feeling (or rather a set of feelings), depression is driven by unhealthy, distorted thoughts. We who struggle with it continually replay negative self-messages in our heads. We fault ourselves unfairly. We bully ourselves with shaming self-recriminations. This naturally makes us depressed. To tweak Descartes “I think (depressed thoughts) therefore I am (depressed).”
Walking around with a head full of unhealthy thoughts, we tend to respond inappropriately, too. We react irrationally based on irrational thoughts. We engage in dysfunctional, sometimes addictive, self-defeating behavior.
We may hurt others, often inadvertently, because we’re confused and hurting. This leads to difficulty forming and maintaining relationships. Ultimately, this vicious circle brings us back to and reinforces our original negative thinking about ourselves.
In CBT, I’m learning to track down, expose and rethink negative thought patterns. It’s not easy–often, they’re nebulous and deceptive. I’ve gotten used to accepting carte blanche the hurtful things I tell myself. From being my own worst enemy, I now have to learn to think of myself as a friend.
I have to get outside my own head and look at myself, my thoughts and my behavior objectively. It’s a very strange experience– like learning to play a game by a new set of rules.
Recovery takes a lot of work and patience. I didn’t get depressed overnight and I’m not going to get well quickly either. Those old messages that played so long in my head sometimes come back to haunt me, especially when I’m struggling with other issues. Some life circumstances spur depression–death, job loss, relationship problems, health issues.
However using CBT, when difficulties arise, I know what I’m dealing with. I recognize my old nemesis depression and I’m better prepared for it. With better control of my thoughts, I feel more in control of my emotions.