Self Help for Depression
Self-help for depression involves understanding the following key concepts:
- The nature of depression and how the psychological and biological models of depression affect how it is treated.
- How a person’s core beliefs and values affect the meanings that are assigned to our experiences and determine the way that we feel.
- How our sense of power and control over the influencing factors in our lives affects our self-determination and ability to solve problems.
- How our understandings of the social context in which we live and grew-up determine the way we relate to other people and society.
- How the way we think about and relate to ourselves affects our sense of self-esteem.
The inter-relationships of these five factors have a profound effect on how people experience depression and also explain why different people experience sadness and loss in completely different ways.
Everybody’s experience of depression is different because no two human beings are the same and we all have very different beliefs and values.
The way that people make different meanings from the same experiences is down to the subjective nature of reality.
Psychological V Biological Models of Depression.
Depression has been modelled in TWO fundamentally different ways by the scientific community.
The Bio-Medical model argues that depression is the result of (is caused by) an imbalance of chemicals inside a persons brain, in particular it is claimed that low levels of Serotonin produce feelings of depression.
Because depression is seen by the medical (and psychiatric) professions as being due to ‘faulty chemistry’, they argue that taking a special type of drug known as a Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor, or SSRI anti-depressant drug can rectify this ‘fault’.
The Psychological model of depression, on the other hand, regards depression as the result of (is caused by) ‘faulty thinking’ because of the way that some people think about, or evaluate certain life experiences, in particular, experiences of loss or sadness.
Because depression is seen as the ‘outcome’ of ‘faulty’ (or unhelpful) thinking (or cognition) those in the psychological community regard talking therapies which involve re-evaluating the individual meanings that people attribute to sadness and loss, as the solution to the problem.
It is important to be aware that feeling very sad is a completely NORMAL human emotional response and it is quite plausible to make the argument that depression is normal and not due to ANY kind of fault.
This does not mean, of course, that feelings of depression should not be addressed, but the way it is dealt with depends fundamentally with what is considered to be the cause.
At Tranceform Psychology we do not subscribe to the bio-medical model of mental illness so the rest of this discussion about self-help for depression uses the psychological model to explain how the process works.
NOTE: Readers may be interested to know cognitive-based talking therapies (such as CBT, ACT and so on) have been shown to have a measurable effect on the architecture of the brain’s neural structure itself – this is known as Neuroplasticity.
Beliefs and Values Moderate Our Meanings.
Everyone of us, as individuals, lives on the same planet.
We are all subject to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology no matter where we are in the World.
The laws of physics, chemistry and biology are the same no matter where to live – they do not vary according to what you believe or don’t believe.
What we think things ‘mean’ is a totally different picture altogether though. In other words the laws of ‘meaning’ vary enormously across the globe because people believe different things.
Some people believe that there is a God who watches over people whilst others do not believe such a God exists.
Some people believe that what other people think about them as a person is incredibly important whilst others believe that what others think is completely irrelevant to how they feel.
Some people believe that when you die that you leave behind a ghost whilst others believe that you live and then you die and that’s it.
What we believe has been shown to be of paramount importance to the way that we ‘feel’ because we make sense of reality and respond to our personal experiences ‘through the lens’ of our core beliefs and values.
Core beliefs and values are, however, not ‘laws’ or objective truths, they are simply what people believe and can be changed with relative ease.
I think I can say with some degree of certainty that none of you reading this page believe that Santa Claus comes delivering presents to you on Christmas Eve, although you undoubtedly believed it some years ago!
Our self-help depression course considers the subjective nature of our beliefs to be fundamental to overcoming feelings of depression.
Power, Control and Attribution in Depression.
All of us have a set of beliefs that can be encompassed by the concept known as the locus of control.
The locus of control is a way of measuring how we attribute ‘causation’ to our experiences. If, for example, you consider that you passed your exams at school by ‘pure luck’ rather than by hard work and effort, then we would say that you have an external locus of control when it comes to personal achievements.
If you believe that the dark, winter nights make you feel down and depressed (according to the bio-medical model of mental illness this would be classified as Seasonal Affective Disorder) then we would say that you have an external locus of control for how you feel (because you would attribute your feelings of depression on the level of sunlight that shines during the winter months).
People who have a more internal locus on control, on the other hand, tend to regard the way that they feel as being due to the way that they ‘make sense of’ or evaluate their experiences.
One can still experience feelings of deep sadness and depression if one has an internal locus of control (because it is a normal human emotion) but one is also less likely to believe that it has been caused by something over which one has no control. People with an internal locus of control are much more likely to do something about the way that they feel and they are also more likely to get over those feelings much more quickly.
Our self-help for depression course examines the locus of control concept in some depth.
Social Factors in Depression.
Human beings are social creatures. This means that we are all living in a social context – a context in which we live alongside other human beings as social groups.
Social contexts, unlike the laws of physics, are not fixed and vary across the world.
Different social contexts are characterised by cultural, economic and political differences. Western and Eastern cultures have very different values and beliefs in the way that the think about their societies.
Westernised cultures place an emphasis on the individual within society (known as ‘individualism’) whereas Eastern cultures emphasise the collective nature of society (known as ‘collectivism’).
The social rules and regulations that different cultures aspire to can have a very powerful effect on the way that members of that society feel and experience their lives, and failing to adhere to those rules can lead to individuals being classified as ‘outcasts’ of their own society.
The most common problem associated with these social pressures is social anxiety.
Depression and the Self.
People suffering from depression tend to have low self-esteem.
Although many people tend to think of self-esteem as being a ‘fixed’ characteristic of a person this is not correct. In fact, self-esteem is nothing more than a person’s own opinion ABOUT themselves.
Because it is an opinion it can be changed and there are many proven ways of boosting self-esteem.
Our self-help for depression course teaches you the tools and techniques that can be successfully used to build your self-esteem up which helps to increase motivation and optimism, key factors in overcoming depression.
Is Self-Help for Depression Effective?
Self-help for depression is no different to any other model of change that people engage in for self-improvement.
Personal change is governed by a number of factors which are dealt with specifically within our course and include:
The degree of ‘agency’ a person has (if they believe that they have the ability to overcome problems by themselves).
The level of motivation a person has – how important it is to solve the problem and who they are solving it for.
The level of expectation they have about the likely outcome of their hard work.
The ability to adopt a ‘towards solutions’ type approach as opposed to an ‘away from problems’ approach.
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About the Course Author
Paul is an academic and practicing psychologist with both a BSc. (Hons) and a Master's MSc. (Distinction) degree in Applied Psychology.
He has been offering clinical psychology and counselling to private clients along with a small team of therapists from the Tranceform Psychology offices in Wombourne near Wolverhampton since 2009.
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