CBT for Seasonal Affect Disorder
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence based practice that is used to treat a variety of symptoms of mental illness. Many people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) display depressive symptoms such as social withdrawal, loss of interest, and changes in sleep habits. CBT for seasonal affective disorder addresses depressive symptoms by challenging the patient to identify the thoughts and feelings associated with their actions.
Psychologist Dr. Kelly Rohan conducted a study of CBT for seasonal affective disorder, and found that the therapy is just as effective as other treatments for SAD such as light therapy. The research was published in the journal Behavior Therapy in September 2009.
Because CBT is an evidence based practice, counseling sessions are usually very structured. Oftentimes a CBT therapist will work with the individual to create an agenda for each session. For example, a patient may say that they have not left their house in a week. The CBT therapist will then explore the thoughts and feelings behind this action.
Maybe the patient feels upset. In which case they will be coached to identify the automatic thought that exists way in the background and contributes to their SAD. The automatic thought may be something like,“When it gets cold outside, I always feel sick and never leave the house.” This thought can eventually cause the person create a situation of social withdrawal. The therapist will work with the patient to challenge their automatic thoughts.
What are the benefits?
CBT for seasonal affective disorder can help people overcome some of their depressive symptoms by challenging them to explore the reasons for their current behaviors. Sometimes we are well aware of our thoughts and feelings, other times we are not. Being able to identify the underlying thoughts and feelings helps us better understand our actions and why we need to change them.
A patient will eventually be able to recognize an automatic thought like “I cannot function in the winter.” The more they peel apart the thought, the easier it becomes to identify any thinking errors. In this example, the patient has to test the validity of this automatic thought. “I cannot function in the winter,” is then reshaped into something more realistic like “Sometimes when it’s cold outside I feel more depressed than usual.” This reframed thought gets the same point across, but it is much more valid and a lot less negative.
Remember that the CBT model relies on the theory that our thoughts affect our feelings which in turn affects our actions. When we are able to reframe our thinking in a more positive manner, eliminating any faulty beliefs or thinking errors, the foundation changes and feelings and actions follow suit.