Just in time for the holidays: to feel better, help someone else!

I just stumbled across this. A new study shows a strong relationship between our ability to cope with stress and doing things to help others. Apparently, people who do things to help others, often little things in their daily lives, tend to manage stress and their own moods better.

It reminded me of good old George Bailey, in the classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Who under immense stress, finds comfort (with the help of Clarence the angel) in the realization that the world is a better place for his having lived in it.

wonderful

Have a helpful day!

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Don’t Let the Depression Industry Make You Sick

I’m finishing the first draft of my self-help manual for treating depression. One of the main points of the book is that it’s often helpful to see depression as a condition that can be dramatically improved, or even cured, by doing things on your own. Such as the kinds of things you can find in any book or good website dealing with behavioral or cognitive behavioral treatments. Because it’s a well-established fact (established by real researchers, not pharma company stooges) that these techniques can work.

But right now, just a few words about the importance of not being brainwashed, so to speak, about what depression actually is. Simply put, do you see it as something you “have” (like a case of the hives, or diarrhea)? Or something that, at least in part, you DO. (Such as by adopting unhealthy habits of thought: seeing things as more dismal than they are, say)?

Here’s the problem: nowadays, despite all we know about the essential role of skill-focused treatments such as cognitive-behavior therapy in treating depression, most physicians never even mention those kind of approaches to their patients. Since most people get their mental health treatment from primary physicians, they don’t even hear about these powerful approaches.

What they do hear about, from doctors and from websites, is the old singsong: “depression is a chemical imbalance.” This is partly because people pick these things up and share them with each other, and the “chemical imbalance” thing has become a popular cliché.

The pharmaceutical industry spends millions and millions of dollars every year to market antidepressants. We are surrounded by ads which all convey the same message:  you need a pill for this. This message is so much out there that it affects what people blog about and put on their Facebook pages: everybody agrees that every and any kind of down mood is a so-called “chemical imbalance” and the treatment is medication.

This is at best a half-truth. It may be bit more true if your condition is bipolar disorder, which does seem to have more of a genetic component, and which can be more difficult to manage with psychological treatments alone. But for most other forms of depression, it’s by no means so clear, or useful to blame your poor brain for everything.

(It is also not so clear that antidepressants are as powerful and effective as the drug companies want us to believe — particularly since we’ve learned that they tend to fund “research studies” on their own drugs, but have been systematically burying any results that don’t show the drugs to be super effective.)

This business-based attempt to “define  reality” for you (because that’s what it is) is pretty typical in our society. We are often told that we need this or that thing to solve some problem we didn’t even know we had. Do you really need a car that will drive down rocky streams? How often have you used it for that, instead of for driving to Wal-mart? In fact, why would anyone “need” a sixty thousand dollar car when a twelve-thousand dollar car drives just as far and just as fast?  Exactly.

It’s the same with the depression industry.

So here is my first bit of advice: in understanding depression, try to be aware that you are being surrounded by messages that have as their purpose, sometimes, nothing more than making a lot of money for a drug company.  Money which you (either directly, or through your insurance) must pay out. As if becoming poorer should somehow make you happier.

Give your poor brain a bit of benefit of the doubt here. Put blaming your brain (which you are doing every time you repeat the mantra, “chemical imbalance”) on hold for a minute, and consider a completely different way of viewing depression: that at least in part, depression is something you do, not something you “have.”

And that any quick Google search for “cognitive behavioral techniques for treating depression” may yield as many simple, effective ideas, ideas that if tried, may give you the same 2% boost in mood that a single dose of a pill will, on average, if it is an “effective” medication. (I’ll talk more about this “2% improvement” number in later posts.)

Excerpted from the forthcoming The Five Stroke Depression Cure, by Greg Korgeski, Ph.D.,  copyright 2012

Self-help is effective

I have a guilty confession to make. For many years I made most of my living as a psychotherapist. (That’s not the guilty confession yet.)

But having been trained in a number of therapy styles, and in particular having for a long time been immersed in the world of classical psychoanalysis (I read all 20-something volumes of Freud’s writings, for instance, as well as attending three different psychoanalytic training institutes for a spell), I came to believe deeply that “real” mental health treatment nearly always required extensive immersion in therapy or analysis. In fact, there was and still is a belief in the psychoanalytic field (a fading specialty, nowadays) that for every patient, the “gold standard” for treatment was psychoanalysis — several years (or more — I logged about thirteen!) lying on an analyst’s couch for four days every week, going through an extensive review of your every thought, your childhood, your fantasies and desires and dreams, your “transference” relationship to your analyst, and so on.

Back in those years, one of the things that I’d sometimes be very defensive about (you would think that after all those years of analysis, defensiveness would have been pretty much beat out of me!) was the notion that people can get very, very effective results from a quicker form of psychotherapy, such as cognitive therapy. In fact, the idea that someone could get “cured” after just one session with a therapist, or perhaps by working on their own with some self-help ideas from a book or that they thunk up themselves, was something I’d probably dismissed as naive.

Fortunately, a few things helped me grow beyond this set of beliefs. And the biggest one was the early training I’d had  to respect the findings of psychological research. Sometimes, it’s important to let the “nasty facts” spoil our unexamined (or more important, our examined) beliefs. And there were a few “nasty facts” that had nagged at me.

First was the finding in some surveys that showed that many people who went in to see a therapist would come for just one visit. This bothers traditional therapists a great deal, as they are generally taught that the first session or even the first few sessions are mainly “intake” appointments, when they should be getting some background and trying to develop a “treatment plan” for the client. So of course they feel frustrated and confused and even personally hurt if the patient comes in for that session and then vanishes.  But when people who did this were followed up by researchers, it was found that the clients often felt that it had been a great session, and that they even felt “cured” by it! Very often, they weren’t coming back because that one session did the trick!

I had an experience like that in talking to a client: one time I met with a client for some reason who happened to remember that he’d seen me for a single visit some years before. He told me that our single visit proved very important to him in helping him to get better. I had no idea why, and he told me that a single thing I said, seemed to make a huge difference. (It was something along the lines of hearing his many problems at the time — how his life was in fact pretty much collapsed in many ways — and then saying  “Wow, the only good thing might be that it can’t possibly get any worse, so maybe things will start getting better for you.” He said that made a lot of sense and he managed to feel more optimistic after that, as he started to realize that yes, things should start to gradually get better!)

The second thing I realized from research was the fast treatment approaches often did help people, a lot. The research on this is pretty huge, actually.

It also turns out that self-help books can be very effective (some more than others). A number of studies have shown that the “effect size” (it’s a statistical term, but basically it means “how much impact does a treatment have compared to other treatments?”) for self-help books is, at least in some cases, nearly as good as the effect size for traditional psychotherapy.

Of course, your mileage may vary, as they say. Certainly, some folks need more one-to-one help with an actual person, while others may prefer learning toe skills to “DIY” (do it yourself). But many people get a lot out of particularly well-designed self-help approaches.

(Note: This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book on the self-treatment of depression)