You’ve heard about the debilitating effect depression can have on a person’s life, and you wonder if you yourself are depressed. Or, perhaps you know you are depressed; perhaps you have been depressed for a long time. You do know people who seem to enjoy life, but you feel unable to. You are taking the first healing step when you recognize that you cannot do it alone, that you need help.
The good news is that depression usually is very treatable. In psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral techniques (which include mindfulness meditation practices) have been shown by empirical research to be very effective. Psychodynamic interventions also help by uncovering and enabling the release of buried emotions which contribute to depression. As an eclectic therapist, I use both psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral approaches, and other approaches from time to time (for instance, humanistic and art therapies), based on what would seem to most benefit you. Regardless of the treatment approach, in therapy you can talk in a safe, confidential environment. Your feelings and concerns will be respected and not judged.
Common symptoms of depression include continuous sadness, flat affect (a kind of numbness), loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, decrease in motivation, difficulty concentrating, difficulty falling or staying asleep, sleeping too much, loss of appetite, or over-eating. The most troubling symptoms of severe depression are suicidal thoughts, with or without a serious intention to commit suicide; and, of course, suicidal behaviors. [If anyone reading this article feels imminently at risk of self-harm or suicide, please call 911, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.]
If you have a situational depression, you may feel depressed due to a personal setback or crisis, and, with support, the depression will lift when the crisis has passed. Chronic depression, however, arises organically and “travels” through life with the person, like the uninvited visitor who won’t leave. With proper treatment, depression can be eased or lifted. Life can become enjoyable again. For some, life can become enjoyable for the first time.
Research has identified biological, psychological, and sociological factors that create vulnerability to depression. If you have a tendency to turn anger inward rather than express it constructively, you might be vulnerable to depression. When feeling hurt or wronged, your gut reaction would likely be to avoid conflict or confrontation, rather than speak up for yourself. As result, you might feel emotionally weighed down (that is, depressed) by anger festering inside. Therapy can lighten this depressive weight by helping you to verbalize anger, using assertiveness, to the person(s) you are angry at; and to take other action, if needed, to resolve the issue constructively.
Some anger doesn’t get resolved by communicating with whomever you are angry at. Rather it gets resolved within yourself—not by turning the anger inward, but by drawing upon your inner resources, such as insight and creative thinking. Using psychodynamics and mindfulness practices, I can help you cultivate these resources to resolve anger — and, for that matter, a myriad of other challenges. Using psychodynamic interventions, I also will explore with you the roots of your depression, and how specific relationships might have influenced or still influence your depression (at times, contributing to it or alleviating it).
Another “troublemaker” fostering depression is negative self-talk—that is, the negative commentary ensuing in one’s head, seemingly 24/7 except during deep sleep. Negative self-talk comes from negative core beliefs that are held from very early in life. It can tyrannize a person’s choices and behaviors, particularly in challenging or stressful situations. Negative self-talk feeds your pain and obstructs your enthusiasm. It can function in the psyche as a harsh critic or relentless pessimist. Using cognitive-behavioral interventions, I can help you to identify your core beliefs and increase your recognition of negative self-talk as it occurs. With greater awareness, you can begin to disengage emotionally from self-defeating thoughts.
The next step is examining the veracity of your core beliefs: Do they really tell you the truth about who you are? Where do they come from, and how is it that you take them for granted, take them as real? Do you have strengths as well as shortcomings, perhaps more than you realize or give yourself credit for? Would a less negative, more balanced view of yourself be more accurate? It would certainly be more empowering. It would not be depressive.
In a good working relationship with a therapist, you can override, or perhaps alter, overly critical assumptions about yourself, in particular, and about life, in general. You can find a way to live well, despite a tendency toward depression; and perhaps, gain freedom from that tendency.