As a leading cause of disability worldwide, depression is an often debilitating and intractable problem for those who struggle with it. Relapse rates are high, and while many people find their symptoms improve with treatment, many of the same people continue to experience depression in various ways.
Psychotherapy is a popular intervention for depression and, in its most common form— “talk therapy”—is an opportunity to talk about life problems, get support and some resolution, and feel better. Now a new talk therapy for depression may be challenging conventional wisdom about best therapeutic practices. What is this new therapy? What makes it effective, and how is it distinctive? To get there requires some background….
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Therapies for Depression That Focus on Symptoms
Not surprisingly, most talk therapies for depression have focused on reducing or eliminating symptoms. This is true, for example, of the intervention cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Long considered a best practice in treating depression, CBT seeks to correct and replace the distorted thoughts and unhealthy behaviors that may be causing the depression (or anxiety or another issue).
In a CBT scenario, if the depressed person says to their therapist, “I’m no fun to be around, especially when I feel depressed,” the therapist might suggest some more realistic forms of self-talk. They might also recommend some healthier behavioral strategies, where applicable. But is focusing on what’s wrong—the causes of misery—the most effective and efficient way to improve wellbeing for someone with depression?
What’s the New Therapy, and How Is It Different?
Maybe not. That’s the implication of early findings into “Augmented Depression Therapy” (ADepT), after the first pilot trial of ADepT at the University of Exeter, in the U.K., showed “potential” to be more effective than CBT.
What does ADepT do, and how is it different? The core feature that makes this therapy unique is its emphasis on living well with depression. The researchers, elaborating on what that looks like in an article in Science Daily, said that in ADepT, the goal is “to help clients identify what is important to them in key life areas, take steps towards living a life in a way that is consistent with these values, and to take opportunities and manage challenges while they do so that they can experience wellbeing and pleasure.”
In other words, the perspective is different in ADepT, which means the starting point is also. Rather than start with the perspective that the goal is to reduce depressive symptoms, AdepT starts with the view that what is most important is living as well as possible.
What Makes Augmented Depression Therapy Effective?
The University of Exeter study went on to conclude that ADepT showed “encouraging early signs of being more effective … to deliver than the current best practice of CBT.” What might explain ADepT’s superior performance? More research is needed to fully answer that question.
One explanation might be that an emphasis on living as well as possible, as opposed to addressing symptoms, has some important therapeutic benefits. Shifting the focus from what’s wrong to what’s good can help individuals see that they are not defined by their diagnosis. It also encourages a more positive mindset that can improve quality of life and life satisfaction.
And, the more one experiences how good life can be—even with depression—the happier and healthier they’ll feel.